Dr. John Parmelee, University of North Florida – Twitter and Politics

Jun 6, 2012

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. John Parmelee of the University of North Florida reveals how Twitter is reshaping the relationship between politicians and their constituents.

John Parmelee is an associate professor of communication at the University of North Florida where his research interests include political communication and journalism in emerging democracies. His research has appeared in numerous journals and in 2012 he published the book Politics and the Twitter Revolution.  He holds a Ph. D. from the University of Florida.

About Dr. Parmelee

Dr. John Parmelee – Twitter and Politics

According to Twitter’s founders, the name Twitter was selected because the dictionary said it means: “a short burst of inconsequential information.” However, my research found that Twitter is anything but inconsequential when it comes to politics. While there are many effects that Twitter has on politics and democracy, five effects stand out.

The first effect is just how influential political tweets are on people’s political views. Some demographic groups -- such as women and those older than 40 -- have their political beliefs influenced more by tweets from leaders they usually agree with than by anyone else in their social circle. And that includes friends, family, and co-workers. Also, political tweets often affect people’s actions. Most political tweeters who were surveyed said they often take actions that are recommended in political tweets.

Another effect is that many of Twitter’s features encourage activism and political discourse. This makes Twitter the ultimate soapbox. Political Twitter users have a genuine desire to engage politically, and they are disappointed when political leaders use Twitter to talk at them as opposed to interacting with them.

Other effects raise concerns. For those who are very ideological, Twitter use can contribute to political polarization. This means that for some, Twitter is being used to limit exposure to diverse political views. The final effect is more hopeful: Tweeting teaches political leaders brevity. Because tweets are limited to just 140-characters, politicians are forced to get to the point. And that is a refreshing change.