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January 15, 2017

Tweets Are DIY Headlines for Politicians

Tweets notoriously have room for only 140 characters so how can they possibly be used to convey a serious position? Well, headlines only have about 60 characters. Sound bites are not much longer. Many of us absorb most of our non-Internet news in headlines and sound bites. The advantage of tweets from politicians’ PoV is that they get to write the tweets themselves.

Way back in 1980 I was running (unsuccessfully, obviously) for the US Senate. After much research I produced a position paper and held a press conference to deal with the fact that the social security trust fund was headed for bankruptcy. My proposal was to raise the retirement age to 67 for those currently under 40 (which included me). The headlines and sound bites were “Evslin Proposes Raising Social Security Retirement Age”. At least half the newspaper articles included somewhere, usually way down in the story, whom would actually be affected; the TV coverage only had the sound bite of my calling for increasing the retirement age and neither the explanation of why or the protection for those 25 years or less from retirement.

Poor Mary was campaigning at the VFW that night. She was accosted by furious veterans near retirement who believed I’d proposed that all their plans be upset and they be forced to work two more years with almost no notice. (BTW, my plan became law without me.)

My tweet obviously would’ve been “Evslin Proposes Plan to Protect Social Security Benefits”. I hope there still would’ve been a position paper behind it; but, frankly, it’s the headline (or tweet) that makes most of the difference. All of us who have run for office wish we could’ve written the headlines. Now we can.

The Internet is a force for disintermediation. We don’t need phone companies to make “phone calls”. Anyone can blog. We can borrow without a bank and crowdsource our funding. Now any prominent politician can write his or her own headlines. This is forcing media to redefine its role which is not a bad thing.

Most national politicians probably have staff that does their tweeting. The President Elect apparently does not. I wish there were links from his tweets to full explanations of his positions; I disagree with some of his tweets and find some of them offensive; but actually I’m glad to know directly what he’s thinking rather than have it filtered through staff or a headline writer.

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