By Kevin Fandl, Associate Professor, American Public University
At the White House Correspondent’s dinner on April 28, comedian Jimmy Kimmel commented several times about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s weight. Among other remarks, he said to Christie, “You might be misunderstanding the New Jersey state slogan. It’s not the ‘Olive’ Garden State.” Christie took it with pride and a little consolation from Modern Family star Sofia Vergara. But what is most interesting about this episode is that during that time, approximately 765 tweets per minute about the Correspondent’s Dinner filled the airwaves, mostly commenting on the remarks. That night, over 60,000 tweets related to the dinner were sent via Twitter.
This is a new era for political commentary, and a new era for public policy analysis as well. Whether it is a Presidential serenade on late night television or a $990 t-shirt worn by a candidate’s wife, we are living in a world where social network comments can be followed by instant reactions by policy makers. Television brought to life key moments in the lives of politicians—but it took social media to provide an outlet to respond to it.
Is this a positive development for public policy? It may be. Facebook, Twitter, and blogs like this provide an opportunity for some to have their voice heard, especially those who might otherwise choose not to attend public forums or take opportunities to make statements in print or on radio or television. It also provides an audience of concerned policy makers who pay close attention to social media and may change the course of their own policy development based on what large groups appear to be concerned about (think about Rush Limbaugh’s mishap with the Georgetown University law student, for instance).
But there are downsides as well. For one, the ability to piece together a quick tweet or Facebook message without much thought means that thorough analysis and critical thinking skills are being pushed aside in favor of brevity and effect. This dilutes the value of opinions about serious policy issues. Another concern is that the ability to hide behind the computer screen may mean less open debate, conversation, and collaboration between diverse interest groups. Town halls and city council meetings where substantive issues affecting residents are sparsely attended, but you can bet that when those groups implement new policies, there will be a whole lot of tweeting going on.
Follow Kevin at #kfandl