Tweet, Tweet Technology

During the 2016 presidential campaign and elections, the social network Twitter was highly popular and visible.  Both candidates utilized this platform to connect with the public to update, deliver information, and make comments about each other.  Initially, I thought, “Twitter? So what.”  But according to Leetaru (2013), “Twitter has become a pulse of a planet-wide news organism, hosting dialogue about everything from the Arab Spring to celebrity deaths.” (Stone, 2012).  Over the past few years, governments have utilized Twitter, sort of like an international 911 to attain real time correct information regarding emergencies and other phenomena that affect people in large geographic areas.

Twitter is free and has several app specific features:  it enables people, organizations, and governments to track geographical data and individuals’ location; it allows fast organization of both formal and informal groups; and Twitter has been used to create public awareness of issues of concern instantly.

The 2016 election was different from other elections in that voters felt a connection with at least one of the candidates.  Donald Trump’s use of Twitter put him out into the public sphere. He engaged individuals and groups by sending tweets and occasional dialogue.  In contrast, Hillary Clinton was ineffective in her use of Twitter, because she referred to statistical information frequently, and when she attempted to ‘Fact-check’ her opponent, she bolstered his campaign by increasing his exposure to the public.

Twitter is an effective tool for mapping global emotion.  In 2012, Silicon Graphics International (SCI), and social media vendor GNIP collaborated to create a Global Twitter Heartbeat Project, and in 2013, the EMOTIVE system was created.  In 2016, it “predicted the Trump win, and it worked by looking at how much fluctuation there was in the number of tweets relating specific emotions towards either Trump and Clinton. The more tweets with reference to an emotion fluctuate – reflecting greater uncertainty towards a candidate – the fewer votes the model predicts a candidate is going to get. Crucially, it’s not the volume of tweets that matter, but the “choppiness” that make the difference” (Jackson & Sykora, 2016).

In future elections, if presidential camps utilize this these tools and information correctly, they could gauge voters’ feelings on certain topics and feelings for their candidate.  Also, the advantage of having this tool would allow candidates to plan and strategize on where to visit, what topics are important to their voters, and overall, what the public is thinking.  I wonder if Trump came to Erie, Pennsylvania so close to the election based on information gathered from Twitter?  Everyone knew he was in Erie, but no one knew the whereabouts of Hillary Clinton.

In “Did Twitter Kill the Boys on the Bus”, reporters were honest about not using Twitter effectively for the act of reporting.  Politicians and reporters expressed their dislike of Twitter, but the actual candidates recognized the value of being able to connect with constituents.  My thought is that reporters used Twitter purely as social media, and with hindsight being 20/20, reporters recognized their misuse and missed opportunities after the fact.  It will be the responsibility of reporters to keep up with the times and determine the most effective ways to utilize media and technology.

Twitter’s membership continues to grow, but as McGonigal points out, when membership in a community gets too large, you start losing interpersonal connections. Will Twitter continue to be effective in the political arena?

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