Got a Political Career? Don’t Tweet It Away.
By Chris Cillizza, The Washington Post TO: Politicians FROM: The Fix
SUBJECT: Twitter is not your friend. No doubt any number of your colleagues have urged you to begin Twittering — sending your thoughts on life, the universe and everything out to the world in bite-sized, 140-character chunks.
Don’t do it.
Twitter may be all the rage for athletes, Ashton Kutcher, Oprah and even the Fix, but it is a bad, bad idea for politicians. Why?
To with: Less than 24 hours after President Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) tweeted — to the nearly 400,000 people who follow him on Twitter — the following proclamation: “White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.”
Those 95 characters (he still had 45 in reserve!) kicked off a furor that led Gingrich to acknowledge last week that his “initial reaction was strong and direct — perhaps too strong and direct.” Oopsie!
An isolated incident amid a sea of tweets, you say? We have two words for you: Mark Shurtleff.
Shurtleff, the Republican attorney general in Utah, had been for months publicly mulling the possibility of challenging Sen. Bob Bennett in 2010.
Thinking he was sending a text message to a friend last month, Shurtleff tweeted this to his 2,329 closest Twitter friends: “I’m announcing I’m running at 12 . . . all of the legislative conservative caucus and other senators representatives there endorsing me . . . time to rock and roll!” Seven minutes later, Shurtleff realized his mistake and tweeted (hair of the dog, we suppose) that he was removing the previous post.
The lesson proved by Gingrich and Shurtleff is that any medium that encourages instant reactions dashed off on a BlackBerry or iPhone and condensed into 140 characters is a recipe for disaster in the political arena.
Sure, in theory it makes sense to provide benign daily updates letting your constituents know you are hard at work fighting for them.
And it is “kinda cool” — as Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a titan of political Twitterers, described a recent tweet interview with ABC’s Jake Tapper — to use the technology to break down traditional communication borders.
But, as in college when you were coming home from a party and it seemed like a good idea to call the object of your affections to let him or her know how you really felt, Twitter provides short-term gain in exchange for long-term pain.
The thousands of innocuous tweets you send won’t matter. It’s the one time that you decide to pop off in the space of 140 characters — perhaps after a cocktail or two at a fundraiser — where problems will arise. Make one slip of the tongue, er, finger, and the sweet joys of Twitter will sour in a moment.
Put simply: Twitter is an amazing and earth-shattering technology — for someone else.