We’ve known for a while now that Twitter and Facebook are the new ‘on the record’. Confirming news is now about knowing a reliable person has tweeted about it. It is proof in the public domain. So much so that many news stories are simply about Tweets and Facebook posts in response to some event or other.
But Bernie Sanders just made Twitter (complete with spelling shortcuts, grammatical errors and everything) even more ‘official’ than it was. Gizmodo’s Matt Novak peeked into the US Senate to find Bernie Sanders standing in front of a gigantic printed tweet from President-Elect Donald Trump to make a point during a debate about repealing President Obama’s flagship Obamacare.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in the USA (commonly called the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare) was a massive overhaul of the US healthcare system brought about by President Obama in 2010. And the US Senate is currently debating to repeal Obamacare. To make the point that President-Elect Trump promised to not cut healthcare benefits, Senator Sanders printed out this tweet from Donald Trump’s timeline from May 2015, ‘I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid. Huckabee copied me.’
Sanders said, ‘If he was sincere, then I would hope that tomorrow or maybe today he could send out a tweet and tell his Republican colleagues to stop wasting their time and all of our time.’
Holding someone responsible for their tweets is not a new phenomenon at all, but looks like Twitter has now crossed the almost invisible threshold from being ‘noise’ to something more ‘official’. Closer home, it was not that long ago that Shashi Tharoor found himself in the eye of a media storm because of an ill-timed and ill-worded tweet about the common man flying ‘cattle class’ on airlines. So the power of the medium was never in question. But there was always that counter opinion at the time of how an innocent joke on twitter may have been blown out of proportion. ‘It’s just a tweet. It wasn’t an official thing’ seemed to be a common opinion.
But bringing a tweet to a legislative discussion endows it with more power than a tweet has ever had before. There have been several instances of politicians’ old tweets being quoted to show how their opinions have changed or become modified over time, but not in such an official capacity. Personal twitter accounts have always been treated as just those – personal. Not official. Several tweeters use caveats such as, ‘opinions are personal’ or ‘retweets aren’t endorsements’, etc to avoid precisely such controversies.
The question then is, what is personal and what is private. Can a politician’s personal public opinion (such as tweets and facebook posts) be treated as being just as official as a press
release from her office? Private conversations that are not on the public domain, such as private conversations with journalists or personal emails, still count as ‘off the record’; but as we have seen with Hillary Clinton’s emails, nothing on the internet is really private. However, there is an argument of a reasonable expectation of privacy with email. But not with twitter.
Social media is the new press release. And everyone better watch what they’re saying. Because twitter just made it to the US senate. What comes next is anybody’s guess.