Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

The danger of Twitter, Facebook politics

By Wesley Donehue, Special to CNN
April 24, 2012 -- Updated 1152 GMT (1952 HKT)
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey listens while President Barack Obama speaks during an online Twitter town hall meeting in 2011.
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey listens while President Barack Obama speaks during an online Twitter town hall meeting in 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Wesley Donehue: Social media gives people unprecedented ability to see political process
  • He says there's a risk politicians will become too dependent on Twitter, Facebook
  • Compromise, productive bills happen behind closed doors, not transparently, he says
  • Donehue: Politicians have to lead and represent the people, not become slavishly responsive

Editor's note: Wesley Donehue is a Republican Internet consultant who teaches federal and state candidates how best to use new technologies in their campaigns. Wesley was named a GOP Innovator of the Year last year by Campaigns and Elections magazine. He is the CEO of political Internet development and strategy firm Donehue Direct.

(CNN) -- I make a living encouraging politicians and candidates to use social media.

And now I'm going to tell them why it's a bad idea.

Not always, mind you -- social media will, and should, continue to play an important role in our political discourse. But the trend has grown so quickly; I don't know that anyone has really stopped to consider the implications of moment-by-moment, real-time transparency.

Wesley Donehue
Wesley Donehue

I would argue that what we've gotten is a trade-off, and the jury is still out on whether what we've lost is worth more than what we've gained in the process.

So before I go about the process of destroying my company's business model, let's talk about what we've gained with social media.

The Web and social media have created a level of transparency that never before existed in our country.

People sitting at home can research complicated issues with a few clicks of a mouse. Online campaign disclosure databases make pay-for-play politics far more difficult to obfuscate. Instantaneous tweeting of shady government practices -- and the resulting uproar -- means that public bodies are more responsive than ever.

But there's an unintended consequence, too, of over-democratization.

Wait, you ask, how can we have too much democracy?

Well for starters, we don't live in a democracy. We never have, nor should we. We live in a republic, where we elect people to take the tough votes and make the tough decisions for us. And quite honestly, politicians should have some level of flexibility to cast votes that -- gasp -- we might not like, without their every action becoming a referendum via Twitter and Facebook.

A quote sometimes attributed incorrectly to Alexis de Toqueville goes, "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money." Today the same sentiment could be said about the danger of shutting naysayers up on Twitter and Facebook.

Too many politicians aren't voting their conscience, they're voting to placate blog commenters, and that's no way to run government.

Secondly, it's one thing to see the sausage get made. It's another thing entirely to watch the pig get slaughtered.

There's a domino effect when it comes to transparency. In policy making, lots of ideas are thrown out in order to set the good apart from the bad, and in order to stake out a position for compromise.

Cynics would refer to it as "backroom deal-making in a smoke-filled room." But here's the harsh reality -- that's how bills get passed. And it's how every important collaborative effort since the dawn of the written word has been achieved.

After all, do you think the Constitution would have ever been written if Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton had Twitter accounts?

Third, government by social media leads to an environment where in every setting a politician has to be "on."

When politicians are hashing out ideas, those ideas can range somewhere between politically untenable and electorally suicidal.

Once they're tweeted -- be it by a journalist or a rival politician -- they become TV ad, direct mail, and attack e-mail fodder.

During the discussion, an idea is thrown out about "What would be the implication of zeroing out funding for popular program X?"

Suddenly, that politician is facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in negative ads back home, telling his constituents that he "considered" or "proposed" eliminating X.

Two weeks ago, Mitt Romney made a passing reference to eliminating HUD. It won't be long before President Obama's team is cutting ads about Romney "proposing" that we leave millions of Americans homeless.

Factually accurate? Sure, but misleading as hell.

The result is a political discourse that is becoming devoid of real ideas, and instead pared down to the safest of talking points.

And because most politicians draw their own districts to shield against a viable challenge from the opposite party, they are far more susceptible to electoral defeat in the summer than they are in the fall.

Their audience in everything they do is the primary voter, not the swing voter. So the rhetoric throughout the year from both parties is increasingly divisive, increasingly partisan, and increasingly destructive to any kind of progress.

Is any of this a product of social media? No, absolutely not. American politics have been trending this way for decades. But technology has expedited our descent toward a political system devoid of real ideas and bold, controversial thought.

As the use of social media accelerates, it's incumbent upon everyone involved in the political process to make sure its power is used to harness everything good about the American political system, rather than to hasten political trends that are hurting our republic.

Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Wesley Donehue.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1928 GMT (0328 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT