After the vice presidential debate last night, I heard commentators on NPR discussing the trending topics on Twitter about the debate. Even during the Republican and Democratic conventions, commentators on the various networks were hashing over what was blowing up the “twittersphere.”
Yet, none of the commentators seem to question how informative these tweets are to the general public. Are the tweeters commenting on something obvious or noticing something substantive and unique that adds a truly new perspective on events? Does the public only view tweets as worth consideration or valid after they are shared by the media?
It would really be informative to know how tweets affect broader public opinion. What were the opinions of people who viewed the presidential and vice presidential debates, but didn’t hear about the reactions on Twitter?
Some people believe that “social media has democratized the commentary, giving voice to a far wider range of participants who can shape the narrative” about how each candidate is faring in the debates. I’m really not sure that’s true because so many of the tweets are not about substance. In spite of “4 million tweets sent, 26 percent focused on foreign policy, 21 percent on the economy and 16 percent focused on taxes” most of what the media is reporting as trending on Twitter is about the style of each debater, funny statements made, and the moderator.
Yeah it was funny when Vice President Joe Biden called Rep. Paul Ryan’s comments “malarkey,” but tweets about him saying that don’t constitute “commentary” on any policy details given. Some might say you can’t tweet about policy details not give. Sure, but stating that would be better “commentary” for the voting public to use.
I just hope media outlets are cautious about “[using] information gleaned from those platforms [Twitter and Facebook] to inform their punditry.” Tweets are a poor substitute for the discussions that viewers might have the next day with friends, coworkers, or family. Those discussions might touch on style and funny comments made during the debates, yet those discussions are more focused on the policies offered by the candidates!
I was finishing college during the last presidential election, so I missed the debates, but a coworker would fill me in the next day. This coworker was a single mother who was looking for a presidential candidate who offered stability. Another coworker was an independent who also was seeking a candidate who had a plan to stabilize the country. In conversations with both coworkers, they expressed concern over the competence of the candidates and the policies they offered.
Twitter just isn’t the sphere where an active discussion can take place, so should it really be used to “inform” by media pundits?