Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Malarkey", "Binders of Women", and debates on Twitter

Twitter lit up during the recent presidential and vice presidential debates with tweets about policy fighting for attention with tweets about candidates' gaffes. Often these gaffes morph into full-fledged internet memes. This has led even ardent Twitter fans to question the value of communicating substantive issues through 140 characters. However, formal debates are increasingly occurring through Twitter. 

One notable example is the Republican presidential candidates’ participation in a tweeted debate on July 20, 2012.  This debate was sponsored by TheTeaParty.net. It included six Presidential candidates: Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Gary Johnson, Thaddeus McCotter, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. 

Some scholars have begun to study tweeted debates.  For example, after studying a debate about the implementation of the European Union’s Data Retention Directive in Norway, Hallvard Moe (2012) found that Twitter facilitates direct engagement among adversaries. 

However, he also found that this technology might privilege the few.  In the case Moe studied, Twitter was used as a public debate arena for a small group of almost exclusively male experts. These core users engaged in direct discussions with adversaries but little evidence was found of new participants getting heard.

A screenshot of the Republican candidates' tweeted debate.

As the debate traffic on Twitter is sure to increase, it’s interesting to think about how this technology is going to be used.  Will it reproduce societal inequalities by privileging certain groups, as Moe found? 

Do you think that tweeting debates is a good idea?  A bad idea?  How would you like to see this technology used for debating?

Dr. Jennifer Novak Ladd is a TSMRI Fellow and Assistant Professor of English at Tarleton State University.  You can find her on Facebook.

Moe, H. (2012 May 15). Who Participates and How? Twitter as an Arena for Public Debate about the Data Retention Directive in Norway. International Journal of Communication, 6, 1222-24.  Retrieved from http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc/article/view/1107/756

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