Twitter to Be Prominent at Conventions

Friday, 24 Aug 2012 11:58 AM

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Twitter, which was just taking root when the last national political conventions took place in 2008, has the potential to wreak havoc on the carefully staged gatherings aimed at sticking to scripted talking points and staying on message, USA Today reported.

The social media outlet has the ability to spread rumors quickly and allow anyone inside the convention, from reporters to delegates to elected officials to comment publicly on what they see or hear or think — a recipe for disaster for those trying to keep everyone on the same page.

There will be instant reaction to speeches and endless commentary on appearances, much like during the Olympics.

For Twitter gaffes at the conventions, the possibilities are limitless.

"Someone or some people will be off the reservation," Thomas Whalen, a Boston University political scientist, told USA Today. "Maybe we'll get some tweets where people actually honest to God state their opinions about the nominees. When did we get that in the last 30 years?"

For both parties, it will take some time to figure out how to get control again.

"This happens when new technologies are introduced. Once you figure it out, you grab hold of it and you control it. We're in this transitional period, this cycle where people don't know how to control it," Whalen told the paper. "So it's mysterious and exciting at the same time."

Republicans and Democrats will have workers feeding social media sites and delegates will be urged to tweet with prearranged hashtags #GOP2012 and #DNC2012.

Tweeting is the "antithesis" of political conventions, Dan Schnur, who was communications director for John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, told USA Today. "Conventions are about singing from the same hymn book. Twitter means everybody has their own song.''

"Having the ability to electronically send rumors out to tens of thousands of people I find to be a very disturbing development,” Tad Devine, a Democratic political strategist, told the paper. “If anything happens off script, Twitter could be very dangerous."

Despite the dangers, both parties are embracing it.

"I think they're getting quite comfortable with this kind of war-room politics unfolding on Twitter," Twitter corporate spokeswoman Rachael Horwitz told USA Today.

"Politics is less about the unknown outcome and way more about the human drama, and the gaffes and the standout moments," Horwitz said. "People know more and more that that sort of story breaks on Twitter."

Zac Moffatt, the digital director for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, told USA Today, "You can no longer control the message; you can only try to shape the dialogue.”

Twitter can bring instant infamy and shine a light on a single comment or slip.

"It does increase the possibility that someone is either going to slip up — or become a major star," Lee Brenner, a co-host of the satellite radio show “Politics Powered by Twitter,” told USA Today.

"Knowing what Twitter is, the controversial statements will be more prominent. If someone that you otherwise would not have heard of says something about Obama and socialism . . . that's going to go around Twitter pretty quickly," Brenner added.

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