Twitter is Good For News, But Can Be Bad For Politics -- Just Ask Richard Grenell

By Philip Bump , written on April 24, 2012

From The News Desk

Spontaneity is one of the things that makes Twitter so great. There’s a reason that live events keep breaking previous records for most Tweets. Watching Twitter in concert with a live event is like sitting in a big room to watch a show with a lot of amusing, interesting, and informed people... And more than a few idiots.

For those Twitter users who have problems filtering between brain and mouth, the spontaneity afforded by the micro-blogging site can be dangerous. Unfortunately, this is a lesson Mitt Romney’s new national security spokesperson Richard Grenell learned the hard way.

Remember the dream of interactive TV? The hashtag has done more to make that dream of an engaged, connected online audience true than any other technology. Any live event and many recorded shows are deliberate about displaying a hashtag with which you can “follow the conversation.” It’s a real-time recap. Networks have finally realized that even though they can’t control the conversation, that conversation gets people to watch. Tuning in to a program for the sake of enjoying the online commentary is now “a thing” (remember all those Republican debates?) – and it’s a thing done by a demographic that broadcasters are trying to reach.

Accepting that loss of control is good for television networks. Now, if only people could control themselves.

Twitter was built for rapid, conversational bursts. That it happened to occupy a space allowing the sharing of newswire-like chunks of info online was a happy twist of fate for the company. As built, though, Twitter doesn’t allow edits. If you are unhappy with a Tweet, you delete it. No fixing spelling mistakes. No revising your hyperbole. It’s out there, as is, unless you delete it.

By delete, incidentally, I mean “delete from Twitter.” Unless you manage to remove it within microseconds, it has probably already been seen by your followers, indexed by Google, possibly Retweeted or commented upon. Once it’s out there, in other words, it’s out there for good. And since a Tweet is generally all of the content being shared – unlike a blog post, which hides behind a shared link – it means that your errors are out there for good.

In politics, that can be a problem. Over the weekend, Mitt Romney's national security adviser Richard Grenell came under fire for deleting over 800 previous tweets. When the deletion was noticed, it prompted journalists to seek them out.

What they found was an unflattering, nasty assortment of attacks against Romney’s primary opponents, the media, and President Obama. On Calista Gingrich: “do you think callista’s hair snaps on?” On Rachel Maddow: “rachel maddow needs to take a breath and put on a necklace.”

What would normally have been an uninteresting staffing announcement became a sordid embarrassment for the campaign. When prompted, Grenell responded: "My tweets were written to be tongue-in-cheek and humorous but I can now see how they can also be hurtful."

This is the other problem with the immortality of the Tweet: It’s a chunk of writing that’s difficult to put into context. Even if you assume that Grenell’s Tweets were somewhat appropriate in the moment, it’s a moment that’s almost impossible to recreate.

Twitter is a rapid-fire conversation. That’s it’s asset, particularly as a news-sharing tool or during live events. And it’s a conversation that is recorded, segmented, and filed away, sitting quietly until such time as someone wants to dig it back up.

This post is brought to you by our content partnership with Daily Download. You can find the original post on their main site.