There is absolutely no doubt that Twitter, along with most other forms of social media, plays a significant role in politics. Almost every politician has a Twitter account, and many of them use it frequently. Whether that is to interact with their constituents or to bring attention to their causes, Twitter gives them a straightforward way to reach a broader audience fast.
How did Twitter rise to such political fame (or infamy, depending on who you ask)? What politicians are most active on Twitter? And has Twitter made the political game better or worse? We’ll try to answer some of these questions, but there is no denying that Twitter politics and Twitter politicians are here to stay.
The Rise of Twitter in Politics
In 2014, the Pew Research Center looked at the rise of social media in the political game. From 2010 to 2014, the number of people following a politician on social media doubled. In 2015, the White House officially launched the handle @POTUS and gave then President Obama free reign of his Twitter. From there on, Twitter grew as a way to reach the masses.
There were always politicians on Twitter, even before Obama got his own handle. But by getting an account, the White House gave even more validity to using Twitter as a way to communicate. Now it’s highly uncommon for any politician, either running for or in office, to NOT have a Twitter account. It’s how they correspond to the voters, rally people around their causes, and allows the masses to respond and voice their opinions.
Twitter took an even more significant role in the 2016 election between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. But we’ll get to that in a little bit.
Why Politicians Like Twitter
There is no shortage of social media out there. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Tumblr. The list goes on and on. What makes Twitter so appealing to politicians then?
The truth is most politicians have various forms of social media accounts where they voice their ideas, talk to the voter, and generally interact with the public. But the simplicity of Twitter makes it easy and fast to use. When Twitter first started, you only had 140 characters to convey your thoughts. That tiny space meant that you needed to get your point across fast and concise. No flowery words, no imagery, no-nonsense.
This straight to the point strategy worked well for politicians, and it resonated with the voters. They liked the instant access they had to the thoughts and ideas of the people running the government. They liked that they could quickly respond or ask questions or voice their dislike for something. It was a good way for everyone to engage in the political process.
Today Twitter has expanded the character count to 280, and while it’s double the original count, it is still a tiny space to convey a message. Twitter continues to play an influential role in the political game, and voters still like the access they have to their elected officials.
The Benefits of Twitter in Politics
We already mentioned a few of the ways that Twitter can benefit politics and a political campaign. It’s a short space that makes politicians convey their message in concise language. It is also an easy way to reach a vast audience without ever having to go anywhere. Here are a few more ways it benefits politics.
It Allows People to Have a Voice.
So often the majority of people feel like they have no voice in politics. No matter what they think or feel about the government, they think they are too powerless to effect real change. Social media platforms like Twitter give them their voice back. It gives them space where they can talk directly to their appointed leaders.
Perhaps their tweets might not change laws or enact a government turnaround, but they have the potential to do just that. If enough people rally behind a thought or tweet, an entire movement can start. We’ve seen that time and time again, especially in this last Presidential election.
It Gives Politicians a Chance to Connect with Voters.
Politicians only have a job if the people vote to put them into office. That’s why it is so crucial for them to connect to the voters. Before the internet and social media, the only way they could do that was to hit the campaign trail. They would travel all over the country to meet as many people as they could to rally the troops behind their campaign.
Politicians still travel extensively when they seek election, but they have another tool to reach the voters: Twitter. They can use this platform to explain their ideas, respond to questions, give more information about upcoming rallies, or just show the voters their personalities. Politicians don’t have to travel in a bus to type 280 characters, and that’s changed the political game.
It’s Cheap and Fast.
A political ad on TV can easily cost thousands of dollars. While some politicians can afford that expense, many are running on a tight budget. Twitter is entirely free, and anyone can use it. You don’t have to pay to send out a tweet, and it’s a cost-effective way to share your message.
It’s also instantaneous. While print and TV ads take time to create and then circulate, a tweet is instant. Type your message, hit tweet, and you are done. While this can be a benefit, it can also be a bit of a pitfall. If you don’t think through your tweets, you could end up with a lot of angry people tweeting back at you.
The Downside of Twitter in Politics
Of course, the use of Twitter in politics isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It certainly has its pitfalls, and the 2016 election is a fantastic example of that. Twitter mostly turned into a political battleground, and it quickly became nasty. Still to this day, the President has kept his Twitter account a place that is controversial and sometimes a burden. Here are some of the downsides of Twitter and politics.
It Gives People with a Strong Voice an Even Bigger Mouthpiece.
Sometimes people tweet without thinking. For the clear majority of us, that usually isn’t a huge problem. You might regret it, but not much harm will come from it. It’s very different for politicians that tweet without thinking.
President Donald Trump and Twitter are an excellent example of this issue. Trump uses Twitter to voice any and every thought that comes into his head, and it certainly causes some upheaval. While the President can express his opinion on Twitter, just like the rest of Americans, his words carry so much more weight. The same is true for any politician or public figure. One wrong misstep on Twitter and you could have a crisis on your hands.
It Simplifies Big Issues and Problems
While the short space means politicians need to be concise with their ideas, it also means that sometimes the overall message is lost. Complicated issues like healthcare or immigration have a harder time on Twitter. They are still discussed, but a lot gets lost in translation.
When people don’t have all the information, they can easily jump to conclusions or take things the wrong way. This problem can lead to confusion and public upheaval and all just because of a few tweets.
Tweets Aren’t Always Positive
We mentioned before that the 2016 Presidential election turned Twitter into a battleground. No rule says tweets must be friendly or positive. In fact, many tweets are meant to take another person down. Politics on Twitter can quickly turn into a shouting match where only negative comments make their way down the pipe.
Negative tweets or those that demean others don’t really do anything to help a situation. They only inflame the problem and put everyone on edge.
Prominent Politicians on Twitter
So which politicians are on Twitter? Or better yet, which are the more prominent politicians on Twitter? Many people in public office find their way to Twitter, but not all of them have a large following or utilize the platform to their advantage. Here are just a few of the most prominent U.S. politicians on Twitter.
- Barak Obama. While he might not be the President any longer, he still has over 99 million followers on his Twitter account.
- Mitt Romney. This former Presidential candidate has over 2 million Twitter followers.
- Paul Ryan. The current Speaker of the House has about 3.2 million followers.
- Corey Booker. The senator has over 3.7 million Twitter followers.
- Donald Trump. While he might be a controversial President, especially on Twitter, he has 20 million followers.
- Elizabeth Warren. This senator currently has over 4 million followers.
- Bernie Sanders. One of the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 election, Senator Sanders has 7.27 million followers.
Of course, this is just a brief list of a few politicians, but it does demonstrate the reach that politicians can have on Twitter. As time goes one, politics will continue to change, and social media platforms such as Twitter will most likely have a big hand in that.