The age of twitter, and 47%

Mitt Romney, May 17, 2012: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

This statement, leaked by iPhone video to YouTube, found on YouTube and tweeted about, posted to a blog, retweeted, retweeted some more, and finally thrown into the world of traditional media, became one of the most talked about election events of the year, maybe even the last two years. The incredible exposure this “secret video” received is largely due to the success of social networking sites in shaping public discourse. Due to the extraordinary, world-changing success that sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have had in general, really. When the story exploded, coverage came from blogs and twitter first and foremost. The spread of this news was not done initially by newscasters, but by individuals talking and spreading the news on the Internet. But who’s to say traditional media alone couldn’t have created such public upheaval about this controversy? Surely a statement like this would be salient to the daily news without tweeting, without blogging, and without Facebooking.

My answer is that yes, it would still be relevant. It would still have dominated prime time news. But the traditional news media broadcasts wouldn’t have been able to talk about this controversy in the same context (as in the same place the video was found), in as effective and efficient a way, and have allowed for this through the responses of American citizens instead of political media elite. To say that user responses are a positive aspect of twitter is the world’s biggest understatement. User responses are not only beneficial to Twitter’s role in public dialogue, but essential to its function as a media form characterized by the unique ability to spread news quickly and efficiently.

So here are some retweet-worthy comments found on Twitter responding to Romney’s 47 percent statement:

“Mitt Romney: ‘It’s time we stop offering school lunches to kids who are moochers’ #47Percent” – @TheDailyEdge


“The irony will be Romney being one of the 47 percent that didn’t pay taxes. #ItCouldHappen” – @JillEBond


“We just met, and this is crazy, but did you know that 47% of Americans are dependent and lazy?” – @7im


“I dunno how politicians wake up each morning and forget every phone everywhere is a multimedia recording device, but thank god they do” – @dcbigjohn


These colorful tweets represent less than 1% of the responses on twitter related to this controversy. In fact, people are still, two weeks later, fervently tweeting about the statement and its implications for themselves, and the country at large. Where would we be without twitter and blogging? We would be talking to our limited number of politically active acquaintances (compared to tweeters or bloggers across the country, and across the world), and watching or reading coverage of the event by mainstream reporters, and probably won’t have access to as many comments, as comedic of comments, or as varied. Even JK Rowling (yes, the author of Harry Potter) made a statement to an interviewer about the 47% comment. How feasible would it have been for people across the Atlantic to respond to America’s political news if it weren’t for blogging and twitter?

But here’s the downfall: Because of this bandwagon effect of spreading, and continuous outrage over Romney’s statement, most people missed the rest of the hour long video. Teaser alert: I’m not about to say that the 47 percent comment was taken out of context, or was wrongly characterized. I’m really not. But in watching the full video, all I could think about was how incredibly refreshing it was to see a candidate being so unbelievably honest about his opinion. Rarely are we able to see candidates talking when they don’t think their statements will be discussed en masse by reporters or television viewers, or taped and posted online, or broadcasted to millions of voters. Whether or not you agree with the content of the video, it’s comforting for once to see a speech without the necessary political rhetoric required for the rest of a candidate’s air-time.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.