The Politics of TMI: Three Arguments Against Twitter


As sheer hypocrisy, the spectacle of Calbuzz criticizing Twitter ranks right up there with Paula Deen attacking butter, Jose Canseco bashing steroids or Jerry Brown banning Teilhard de Chardin.

Throughout the day, we tweet our vast global audience links to our stuff, while dispatching 140 character feeds of our deepest thoughts on politics, media and getting the oil changed in the old Plymouth.

That said, a recent spate of inane, Twitter-driven firestorms – the Hilary Rosen stay-at-home moms war, the missing tweet archive of horse’s ass Richard Grenell, the hijacking of French election results, for starters – lead us to wonder if we’ve quietly morphed into Roland Hedley Jr. And whether the MSM’s jones for tweeting is not perhaps contributing to what you might call the complete corruption of journalism and the utter debasement of the political process.

Oh sure, Twitter is an invaluable communications tool for pimping your business, spreading the word about a good cause and that whole Arab Spring thing. But for high end political coverage? Maybe not so much. Here are three reasons why:

It makes everything as important as everything else. For political reporting, the mega-tweet eternal motion stream devalues perspective, judgment and reflection, enabling every 23-year old knucklehead with an iPhone to distort and drive a campaign narrative that favors the trivial over the substantive – Santorum’s wearing a sweater vest! — the immediate over the consequential – Trump’s endorsing Romney! – and events over ideas – Newt and Mitt are both headed to Tommy’s Ham House!

The result: a second-by-second, self-contained and self-referential closed feedback loop that creates what our friend Dan Balz critically described to media critic Michael Calderone as “just a flow of conventional wisdom.”

Political junkies, political operatives and political reporters consume most of this dross, and in this accelerated, 24/7 news cycle, a day feels like a week, with the afternoon’s agreed-upon media narrative getting turned on its head by the evening’s debate. Candidates rise, fall, and rise again, all choreographed to the rat-a-tat background noise of endless minutia.

“If you are off your computer for an hour, the volume of tweets and emails is overwhelming and just to get through that — and then you feel you’re in this circular conversation with people who are slightly disconnected with the real America,” Washington Post chief correspondent Dan Balz said back in Des Moines, Iowa last month.

Calculating how many professional journalists have wasted how many highly-paid hours tweeting the very latest, up-to-the-second irrelevancy about the Obama-Romney dog wars, Jon Huntsman’s Kurt Cobain joke and Mittens bad-mouthing homemade cookies in Pittsburgh is akin to counting all the grains of sand in the world. Not to mention Etch-A-Sketch and Rosengate:

That prompted Ann Romney to join Twitter or something and start warblogging, prompting a flurry of clarifications and counter-statements and whatnot, culminating in an appearance on Fox News this morning, when Ann Romney basically said that people should vote for her husband.

This would obviously be a real setback to Hilary Rosen’s campaign, if she were in a campaign or affiliated with a campaign, which she’s not. But that won’t stop it from being some sort of “Election 2012” thing. Romney surrogates are already on conference calls with reporters, pretending that Rosen is an official administration spokeswoman. The Obama campaign has already had to go to the trouble of distancing themselves.

The question is, will this “impact” the election? Will it “move the needle”? Will it be a “game changer”? Well, let me check real quick — ahh … okay, here we go: it says here that the presidential election will be decided by whoever takes a majority of electoral votes. So, I’m guessing … no?

It enables the spread of bad information. Nothing in the 2012 campaign illustrates the dark side of Twitter as much as the sensational story of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley getting indicted for tax fraud. Except she didn’t.

When a new political blog called the Palmetto Public Record posted a story in March claiming two of its sources expected Haley to be charged “as early as next week,” it took exactly two minutes – two minutes! – for a reporter at the Washington newspaper The Hill to tweet the news, which was promptly re-tweeted by BuzzFeed and the Washington Post (Hello, Janet Cooke!), followed soon after by stories posted on the Daily Caller, Daily Beast and Drudge.

Sadly (unless you were Haley) the story simply wasn’t true, as her office rather convincingly proved the next day by producing a letter from the IRS attesting to that fact, leading to a host of media skinbacks – many of them tweeted of course.

This episode is not the first time that a questionable Twitter report has roiled the 2012 elections — the first presidential campaign in which the microblogging service has been used broadly by news outlets as a way to report and break news.

And although many news organizations have set standards for the use of Twitter by their journalists, reporters remain largely free to exercise their own, unedited news judgment. (At least one staff member from The New York Times sent out a Twitter post about the initial report.)

For many, that is Twitter’s beauty: it is a conversational device where words are impermanent and always revisable. And as the Palmetto Public Record episode shows, anyone can inject himself into that conversation.

Anyone, indeed.

It makes people stupid. Exhibit A: See Weiner, A.

Twitter magnifies all our most asinine urges by eliminating the possibility for any sort of subtlety. In 140 characters, you can’t accomplish anything particularly wonderful. Sure, people have been rescued, money has been raised, the word has been spread in repressive regimes.

But by and large, Twitter is reserved for people to act like bigger idiots than they would otherwise. It is easy to be racist or sexist or generally asinine in 140 characters. It is impossible to be sublime. .. Twitter has an inexhaustible appetite for two things: one-liners and stupid platitudes about what women really want and Appreciating The Time You Have.

You can’t be subtle. Well, maybe you can, but in that case the only follower you will attract will be a spambot because you accidentally mentioned a brand of detergent by name.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we gotta tweet this post pronto (as Calbuzzblog on Twitter).

subscribe to comments RSS

There are 6 comments for this post

  1. avatar kpminott says:

    Best Phil-ism of the morning, so far: “Twitter … [i]t is impossible to be sublime.”

    • avatar pjhackenflack says:

      …er, ah, better make that a Jerryism (and a quote from Alexandra Petri)

    • avatar cbarney says:

      they may not be sublime, but the “three-line novels” of félix fénéonhave a kind of bare beauty that makes them worth reading a hundred years later. these were fillers, brief items that could serve as column-closers when the type came up short, in le matin of the early 1900s. they were the tweets of his day, though far more concise and information-packed than their 21st-century imitations.

  2. avatar thetruthsquad says:

    Twitter. Almost as bad as blogs.

  3. avatar patwater says:

    Haha why do the iphoned-up knuckledraggers always got to be 23? On a more substantive note, re:

    “For many, that is Twitter’s beauty: it is a conversational device where words are impermanent and always revisable. And as the Palmetto Public Record episode shows, anyone can inject himself into that conversation.

    Anyone, indeed.”

    I know Twitter is everyone’s favorite punching bag for the role technology plays in political discourse, but for a better case study, I’d suggest Quora – the collective intelligence engine that’s quietly grinding out improvements to human inquiry.

    I humbly submit the following for the consideration of this august body:



Please, feel free to post your own comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.