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HomoTech: Tweet No Evil

by Shaun Knittel
Contributor
Saturday Jul 16, 2011
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Twitter and politicians have had a rocky love affair. Like an arranged marriage between social networking parents, the union turned affair has helped and hindered many-a-tweeting-politico.

President Barack Obama maintains a very active Twitter account. While running for president he tweeted "Yes we can." Since then, the leader of the Free World has never looked back. Recently, Obama held a Town Hall meeting on Twitter.

Guess what happened: Republicans took to Twitter like a social networking teenager on a sugar high and tweeted the air right out of the room. Meanwhile, Obama, always the social networking savvy user that he is, simply ignored the tweets he didn’t want to answer, and tweeted answers to those he did want to answer.

Twitter is not just for presidents (but not the queen -- at least not yet). It can also be an effective tool for other elected officials to poll their followers - via tweets. Case in point, during the New York marriage battle, undecided Republican New York State Senator Greg Ball tweeted: "Opening up the discussion! So, if you were me, how would you vote on gay marriage? Yes or No?"

The result? The Twitterverse went nuts. Activists, LGBT organizations -- and anyone in between -- began to tweet Sen. Ball to let him know that "Yes" was the preferred vote. According to Ball, the responses he got were 1,000-to-1 in favor of same-sex marriage.

Marriage equality, as we all now know, did pass in New York. And yes, Ball voted for it.

Twitter got a front row seat to that conversation as well. Celebrities began a tweet-a-thon almost immediately after the votes were in. From sea to shining sea, and from indie band members to global superstars, the music world jubilantly acknowledged the historic vote.

"I’m so proud to be a New Yorker, where marriage equality has been realized! Who wants Minister Matronic to officiate their gay wedding?" tweeted Ana Matronic of Scissor Sisters.

""New York! [love] U! You’re officially the coolest place on the planet!" Katy Perry tweeted to her fans.

And of course, no Twitter montage would be complete without the queen of Twitter herself, Lady Gaga (she has the record for most followers). Her Gaganess tweeted, "I can’t stop crying. We did it, kids. The revolution is ours to fight for love, justice + equality. Rejoice, NY, and propose. We did it!!!"

I tweet. I’ll admit it. Twitter is easy and because it only allows you to post text-based messages of up to 140 characters within seconds. Since its launch in July 2006, Twitter has gained worldwide popularity and is estimated to have 200 million users, generating 200 million tweets a day and handling over 1.6 billion search queries per day.

With that kind of attention it is easy to see how Twitter has seduced politicians far and wide. With the click of a "send" button a politician can say or do, virtually, whatever he or she wants. But there, it would seem, in lies the problem.

Queue Anthony Weiner the former New York congressman turned lewd-tweeter. Weiner’s wiener became famous after he tweeted, and then lied about, a link to a picture of his erect penis (in briefs) to his public account. The world watched as the sexting Twitter user finally admitted, at a June 6 press conference, that he had sent sexually explicit text messages and photographs of himself to several women, both before and during his marriage. He eventually resigned over the blunder.

Weiner is still tweeting.

And then there is the argument of national security. In 2009, Representative Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, regularly tweeted details of his congressional delegation’s visit to Iraq. Those details, said officials, were supposed to be kept secret.

Twitter trouble led to the arrest of a British politician late last year. Gareth Compton, 38, was arrested after suggesting in a tweet that someone should stone a newspaper columnist to death. The tweet was later deleted and Compton was released after an apology.

But the damage had been done. The police take hateful tweets seriously, as Mr. Compton learned.

Instead of a parental control program for the Internet, it might be useful for some assistants to these politicians to invest in some sort of political control program for Twitter.

Twitter is a grand thing. It is an easily learned and accessible thing. My advice to politicians who would-be tweeters: Stick to the Obama rule of tweeting. If you can’t say something nice ...

Shaun Knittel is an openly gay journalist and public affairs specialist living in Seattle. His work as a photographer, columnist, and reporter has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to writing for EDGE, Knittel is the current Associate Editor for Seattle Gay News.

This article is part of our "HomoTech" series. Want to read more? Here's the full list»

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