The 140-Character Majority

By The Weekly Standard‘s reckoning, conservatives (#tcot, to those in-the-know) have won the war for Twitter by all measurements — followers, elected officials on the service, etc.

Like so much about Twitter, though, the question remains: so? Even The Standard admits that they’re missing the critical step two between “tweet” and “profit.” Owning a niche web service is not necessarily its own reward:

A Twitter account alone does not an election win, of course, but the GOP’s mastery of Twitter is an indicator that it’s figuring out how to meld its traditional tactics with new ones to create the kind of bold, comprehensive strategies, as Obama might say, that it needs to win.

And the mocking comparison to Obama’s rhetorical style may be too right by half. Like conservative caricatures of Obama, Twitter is all form, no substance. Twitter has its purpose: in a crisis, it’s a quick way to assemble data points, to “liveblog” ongoing events, and even (for some) to make and maintain friendships. But as a media service for the generation of thought and opinion — the only way in which “cornering” a media resource can create political value — it’s rather empty. Twitter’s form excludes nuance; there’re very few issues of substance that can be absolutely answered in 140 characters, and those that can aren’t generally very interesting.

This might be why we see Twitter populated with not just the right-wing, but the extreme right-wing. That, after all, is the set that gravitates towards and finds its voice in other media that similarly exclude nuance — whether in the theater of talk radio, or the echo chamber of hyper-partisan, agenda-driven broadcasting. Twitter draws conservatives because so many conservative solutions thrive on limited information (tax cuts are good, terrorists are bad, etc.), and crumble under the close scrutiny and robust dialogue that Twitter forbids.

Twitter, then, fills almost the same need as talk radio: “red meat” messaging to, and dialogue between, the base. Thus far, it’s not a serious gateway to the marketplace of ideas, except to the extent that bloggers and real media personalities link to articles written elsewhere. Let’s give them Twitter and content ourselves with, say, the New York Times and the Associated Press.


  1. In addition to real-time activities like live-blogging, twitter works best as a gateway to other media. Follow people or hashtags you’re interested in, and those in turn will supply you with tinyurl links to more traditional sources, like news articles or videos.

  2. tl;dr

    Twitter is small ideas for small minds – just like all Republican talking points.

    See Ames, you just need to keep your post under the 140 character limit so you don’t lose people attention.

  3. Bobby the Lip · ·

    Every Republican “idea” can be stated in under 140 keystrokes. And conceived by fewer than 140 brain cells. If teabaggers believed in evolution they could look forward to attaining lizard status in about 20 million years.

    1. Lizards are actually very highly evolved and like all reptiles have a larger genome than humans, due to their “cold bloodedness”. Without an internal temperature regulation they actually have multiple proteins that do the same job which are active at different temperatures.

      1. Quite being such a scientist! But great quote – too bad its real intended targets will NEVER get the irony.

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