Twitter can mar political discourse

How many times a day do you check your Facebook, email and Twitter accounts? With smart phones, it doesn’t matter if you’re in class, walking down Trousdale or in line at the cafeteria — there’s a constant influx of information.

Twitter allows users to not only stay in constant, real-time connection with each other, but also with the news. During election season, it is an especially useful tool, but one that users should handle with care.

Though Twitter might be viewed within a more casual, social context (read: tweeting funny pictures to your friends), politics-related tweeting has reached soaring levels of popularity. According to an article on World Net Weekly, more than 4 million users tweeted about the Republican National Convention last week. Last month, Twitter launched a new tool called the “Twitter Political Index,” reflecting the projected views of Twitter users that day.

Considering its widespread popularity, as well as the advantages of real-time updates and a wide variety of sources and users, Twitter more than covers its bases as a legitimate source of political information. This literal at-your-fingertips access to the latest news is remarkably convenient. As with any other news source, however, there are negative aspects.

Most of us are familiar with the 24-hour news cycle that revolutionized the pace at which news is made and consumed. Yet Twitter has created an even faster pace.

In an article on GigaOM, Mathew Ingram refers to the 21-minute news cycle — the phenomenon in which a news item can blow up, be picked apart, debated and discarded for the next hot piece of information in just 21 minutes.

On Twitter, complex political debates are condensed into tiny packages. Efficient? Certainly. Thought provoking? Not so much. It’s true that some of the deep analysis and more thought-out commentary found in newspapers and online journals is lost when thoughts are condensed into a 140-character tweet.

It’s fast news, but it’s not what is traditionally thought as food for political thought.

Moreover, there is so little time between event occurrence and projection that editing is thrown to the wind, let alone censorship or clarification of words taken out of context. It’s difficult on a platform that thrives on speedy news bites to discern the important from the trivial, or even fact from a hurried Tweet-turned-mistake.

Still, news is news. Every medium has its pros and cons, and there’s no question that Twitter serves up a wealth of information in the instantaneous way our generation loves. Students can scroll through hundreds of headlines in a matter of minutes, diving deeper only into the issues that catch their eye — all from the convenience of their own account, on their own time.

For many USC students, November is the first opportunity to vote in a presidential election, and an informed voter is always better than an ignorant one. A wary Tweeter is also better off than a careless one. Students should take advantage of the best of Twitter, yet be wary of the social media site’s flaws and potential pitfalls.


Arshya Gurbani is a junior majoring in biological sciences.