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Netiquette 101: How to Be a Politician on Twitter

It might seem silly that Twitter released a 136-page manual for political figures, but a lot of them could use the help.
October 2, 2015, 3:25pm

Welcome to Netiquette 101, in which we'll be using cyber-case studies to teach you basic but valuable cyber-lessons in being a better cyber-citizen. Today, we discuss how to not totally fuck yourself over if you're a politician on Twitter.

Case Study: Earlier this week, NPR gleefully reported that Twitter offers a guide to public officials seeking elected office. Though the social media platform offers tips for musicians, members of the media, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations through its media portal, the site's guide for politicians is no mere online FAQ: It's a 136-page-long PDF.


"The best way to earn a voter's support," the guide reads, "is no different today than it was a century ago: a simple handshake and a look in the eye. But it is hard to scale such retail politicking to the entire voting public." Make no mistake, this is a guide for older, less tech-savvy people who need help understanding basic stuff like what a tweet is and why a tic-tac-toe sign makes words turn blue.

On one hand, this guidebook is hilarious to people who use the internet a lot—it breaks something our generation innately understands into such rudimentary steps that it feels like a manual meant for, like, aliens. But many politicians really, really need some tips. Case in point:

Ed Balls

— Ed Balls (@edballs)April 28, 2011

What We Can Learn: Even if politicians choose to stay hands off and let their staffers handle the day-to-day business of tweeting—thus avoiding any Ed Balls–esque snafus—it makes total sense that a politician might want to know things like what a hashtag is, or where on the screen their profile photo might appear. Though it can seem corny to acknowledge it, social media has democratized online communications and given elected officials and other public figures a direct line to the public. Sometimes this means kids tweet "Fuck me daddy" at the Pope, but sometimes it can be used for important reasons, and politicians should understand the rudiments of the online world.


But the manual didn't cover everything a politician should know about Twitter—there's some pretty important stuff left out.

Case Study: Once upon a time, people thought Anthony Weiner could be president someday. The New York Congressman from was young, handsome, and a fiery speaker. Then, in 2011, he became embroiled in an incredibly embarrassing scandal that started when he apparently accidentally tweeted a shot of his bulge rather than sending it by direct message. He denied everything until a second, more graphic, photo leaked, seemingly permanently derailing his political career. You would think that at the very least he'd be more discreet in the future—but a year ago, Weiner's Twitter doings were in the news again after his official account faved a picture of a comely young woman. Gawker called him out on his transgression, and then everyone close to Weiner probably smashed every electronic device near him with a hammer.

What We Can Learn: Everything—literally everything, from the people you follow to the tweets you favorite to the accounts you have in specific follow lists—on Twitter is public by default. If you're a public figure and someone decides to make you look like an ass by using the internet paper trail that you've created for yourself, then it's your own damn fault.

How does your student loan debt make you feel? Tell us in 3 emojis or less.

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton)August 12, 2015

Case Study: There's no way of getting around it: This is an incredibly bad tweet. In addition to inadvertently trivializing what is an extremely serious issue for millions of young people, the whole thing had an air of Steve Buscemi on 30 Rock trying to trick teenagers into thinking he's one of them.

What We Can Learn: As tempting as it might be to try to buddy up to the youth by using emoji, saying your financial bailout plan makes you "the plug," or that your foreign policy is as good as "shower time, Adderall, a glass of whiskey, and Diesel jeans," young people on Twitter do not want a cool friend. They are not retweeting Toronto City Councilman Norm Kelly (a.k.a. @norm) because they have suddenly decided he is awesome. They are retweeting him because the anachronism of an old man tweeting about man buns and pretending to like Drake is funny. Politicians deal with serious stuff, and it's OK for them to be serious rather than hip, jokey, and ironic. Even if it gets attention in the short term, in the long term stuff like this can only make you look like a fool.

Follow Drew on Twitter.