The Great Debate

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© Joe Casad, Editor in Chief

© Joe Casad, Editor in Chief

Article from Issue 189/2016

The history of high tech in politics writes another chapter this season, with Twitter taking on new importance. Barack Obama pioneered the use of Twitter as a campaign vehicle in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, carefully coordinating his tweets to complement a comprehensive strategy of voter outreach.

This time, candidate Donald Trump appears to be using Twitter even more than Obama did. In fact, one could argue that Twitter is Trump's primary mode of communication – every day a few more Trump tweets appear in the news headlines.

Dear Linux Magazine Reader,

The history of high tech in politics writes another chapter this season, with Twitter taking on new importance. Barack Obama pioneered the use of Twitter as a campaign vehicle in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, carefully coordinating his tweets to complement a comprehensive strategy of voter outreach.

This time, candidate Donald Trump appears to be using Twitter even more than Obama did. In fact, one could argue that Twitter is Trump's primary mode of communication – every day a few more Trump tweets appear in the news headlines. With all those tweets, you might be thinking that Trump spends even more time and energy studying and coordinating what he says, but judging from the content of some of his messages, he doesn't appear to be passing the contents by any kind of professional politician or handler. He really seems to be tweeting whatever happens into his head. Is this a missed opportunity for more careful coordination? Maybe not. Twitter thrives on high velocity. Trump just keeps the tweets coming, and therefore, keeps himself constantly in the news. Even if he tweets something that no experienced political manager would ever let him say, it doesn't matter, because, before anyone can even start a controversy over it, he has already moved on and tweeted something else.

What is truly more interesting than the rise of Twitter is the apparent demise of email. Barack Obama used to carry his Blackberry around wherever he went to send instructions and receive reports in a steady stream of email messages. If one report is correct, Trump doesn't really email at all but tends to scrawl handwritten notes on paper and pass them on to assistants to email. In a recent interview, fellow billionaire and reality star Mark Cuban recounts a past dust-up with the Donald: "He doesn't email, right, so I got an email from his assistant that is scanned from a piece of paper with his comments on it. All it said was 'what happened?' " [1].

Hillary Clinton certainly has her own email issues, having been the subject of a lengthy investigation over which email server she used to send which message when she was Secretary of State.

Email is altogether too old fashioned for this year's news – too easy to spoof, too easy to hack. Too many private email messages have ended up on too many blog sites. If I were a presidential candidate, I would be very careful about putting too much strategic information in an email message.

Email is good for communicating details: specific instructions, bulleted lists, detailed commentary, counter-commentary on previous commentary. What is Twitter good for communicating?

  • Emotions
  • Platitudes
  • Links to other stuff on the Internet

The tiny character limit does not let you actually develop any kind of argument or background evidence for whatever it is you are claiming. Better to tag names and things with emotionally charged adjectives, so as to encapsulate a system of thought, or a person's life, in a single word. Thus Trump does not refer to his opponent as "Hillary Clinton" but as "crooked Hillary Clinton" and to his senate nemesis as "goofy Elizabeth Warren."

Senator Warren is quite ready to play the Twitter game herself, taking to the medium more than once to call Trump a "bully" and use terms like "stupid" and "reckless."

It has occurred to me that the 140-character limit for a Twitter message is pretty similar to about how much text someone could shout at you when they drive past you in a car traveling at 30 miles per hour.

American political discourse has thus evolved from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates [2], in which each candidate could speak for 90 minutes in an unmoderated forum to elucidate their positions on the issues facing the nation, to our new paradigm, which is the equivalent of people driving around in cars shouting two-sentence insults about each other and circling back several times a day with new insults or new ways to formulate the old insults.

Interestingly, the candidates didn't have cars back in the days of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, or even microphones with public address systems to amplify their oratory. Not only do we have cars and microphones, we also have the Internet, as well as cell phones, social networks, hairless cats, and sonic toothbrushes.

We are sooo much more advanced.

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