Barack Obama will hold a Twitter townhall today where he will field and answer questions with the #AskObama hashtag. Recently, Obama indicated that he will regularly tweet himself from his Twitter handle, @BarackObama.
Obama and his team are late to the game. And though he will never admit it, Obama would not be tweeting or having Twitter townhalls if it weren’t for the way former Alaska Gov. and potential presidential candidate Sarah Palin became Twitter’s trailblazer.
In fact, I have said Palin should be properly referred to as “The Great CommuniTweeter.”
On April 29, 2009, Palin, then using the handle @AKGovSarahPalin, took to her Blackberry, used her thumbs, and tweeted, “This is my official Twitter feed – from here I’ll provide updates on issues concerning Alaskans. Learn more about AK at http://www.alaska.gov.”
It was her first tweet.
Hours later, in what would foreshadow future events, Palin then set out to correct a false story from the national mainstream media. Her second tweet was, “AP gravely misquoted my staff, saying I ‘changed my mind’ on the stimulus package. For accurate info, go to http://tinyurl.com/c7v84t.”
Attacking the biased mainstream media — in addition to linking to substantive policy proposals and attacking Obama — would be a recurring theme in Palin’s tweets.
Months later, in June of 2009, the world became aware of Twitter’s impact, power, and reach when Iranian freedom fighters and dissidents used Twitter to organize their protests against Iran’s leaders. Further, Iranian dissidents used Twitter to disseminate, in real time, details and images of the brutal crackdown they were facing.
Then, after lawsuit upon lawsuit made it impossible for her to effectively govern Alaska, Palin resigned from Alaska’s governorship. Perhaps she also sensed that Obama’s leftist policies were taking the country astray and could better be a force against his liberalism on the national stage,
And in November of 2009, before kicking off her book tour, Palin changed her twitter handle from @AKGovSarahPalin to @SarahPalinUSA, which she currently uses.
In a truly American way, Palin had reinvented herself on Twitter. She was born again as @SarahPalinUSA. And she started the next chapter of her life as a private citizen trying to make an impact without a formal title.
From her new Twitter handle, Palin’s first tweet was “Michigan-thx 4 Going Rogue! Perfect tour kickoff w/Kid Rock tune praising Northern MI humming in backgrnd @ Barnes/Noble. Above expectations.”
Instead of going rogue, though, from the time she first joined Twitter, Palin assimilated into the medium. She used URL shortening tools. She used abbreviations. She re-tweeted other tweets. She followed people.
And along the way, she has coined words like “refudiate,” used Twitter to respond rapidly to false memes and reports about her, used it to promote and praise her daughter Bristol, highlighted military families, shown her love for Alaska, confronted media organizations such as Politico that have been thorns in her side, and made news.
What makes Twitter work for Palin is she has found the secret to social media — she comes across on Twitter as the type of person she is in real life. She’s authentic.
Palin’s tweets do not read like they are press releases or have been run through a series of bureaucratic operatives or focus groups.
And that is why her supporters, critics, and the media had to pay attention to every tweet.
In the process, Palin lured the members of the mainstream media onto Twitter. They had to join out of necessity and curiosity.
Of course, the GOP establishment and the mainstream media mocked Palin at first. They said she was “not serious” for just “tweeting.” And now, Twitter is conventional. It is the terrain on which more of the political game is being played.
And how the game has changed.
In real time, news and information is shared and spread. Rapid response is conducted. Reporters are spun and the stories they will write about are shaped on Twitter. News is made. Stories are scooped.
The medium partly is what it is today because the mainstream media is addicted to the medium.
They follow other reporters, politicians, newsmakers, personalities, and activists. They regularly use the medium to better their reporting.
Reporters obsessively read what people have tweeted at them, and that is why Twitter offers a chance for regular citizens to get points across to the members of the media before they even file their stories and can, in turn, play a role in shaping the narrative and adding to what Washingtonians refer to as “the conversation.”
In the age of Twitter, is there a need to send a press release to a reporter’s inbox when a tweet can do the job faster and more effectively?
Further, a tweet can get a jump start on disseminating the counter-spin, otherwise known as the “the truth” or “the facts” in real America, and making it go viral without the mainstream media’s filter. The velocity with which information spreads and gets to thought leaders and activists is immeasurably faster than even a year ago.
Even more symbolically, it is worth noting that Obama revolutionized the use of Facebook as an organizing tool to run circles around his opponents in 2008. Facebook was started in the Ivy League. Its first users were preppy college kids. Before Facebook was opened up for all to use, it decided like an old European sovereign which networks and profiles groups of users were able to see.
Twitter was and is different. Twitter symbolizes the wild frontier. It is democratic and meritocratic, where the cream rises to the top. It is a medium in which interesting, engaging, and dynamic writers can have the same measure of influence as a former Gov. from Alaska.
Twitter represents what some of America’s Founding Fathers referred to as the “aristocracy of the soil.” On Twitter, there were no rules, mores, or definitions of what was deemed to be conventional — they were made up along the way by a collective community.
In short, Twitter is emblematic of exurban frontier pioneer ethos that Palin personifies and champions. And so it is symbolic Twitter is where she started anew, so to speak, after she was brutalized as John McCain’s running mate in 2008 just as American pioneers have sought out the frontier and the exurbs to begin their lives anew.
And that ethos is spreading across the world. And doing so with warp-speed that rivals the speed at which information spreads on Twitter.
When protesters took to the streets in Egypt and across the Middle East, the Egyptian government shut down the Internet. During that week of tumult in February, no potential Republican candidate for president at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) except for John Bolton had anything coherent to say about Egypt.
So it was fitting that, during that week, Palin tweeted: “Media: ask “Will Obama Admin exert as much ‘constructive’ pressure on Iranian govt to change & allow freedom ~ as they just did for Egypt?”
And her tweet was more coherent than almost anything said by the careful crop of professional Republican politicians.
The calcified ruling classes in the Middle East are not the only ones afraid of how Twitter democratizes power.
When the Chinese released Ai Weiwei, an artist who was jailed for speaking out against the government, they banned him from using Twitter as a condition of his being released.
Similarly, the old political order in America — the often seedy nexus between the establishment media and the ruling class that has been standard operating procedure — is under threat because of networks such as Twitter.
And if Palin decides to run for the presidency, it will be this order she and her supporters will be trying to go around and topple.
And Twitter will be a big part of their nerve center.
Earth shattering elections and movements often occur due to changing mediums of communication.
No potential candidate, at this point in time, is better positioned to use new mediums such as Twitter to circumvent a political order and establishment that seems more calcified.
If Palin decides to run for president and succeeds, she will have done so because she is the “Great CommuniTweeter.”