Oct 26, 2012 / 3:39 pm
With less than two weeks until the presidential election, the incredibly tight race for the White House is spurring an onslaught of insults and invective, largely fuelled by the power of social media.
Following the third and final presidential debate in Florida earlier this week, conservative pundit Ann Coulter called U.S. President Barack Obama a "retard" on Twitter, prompting a barrage of angry criticism about a term considered derogatory.
The president, meantime, used the term "bulls----er" in an oblique reference to Republican rival Mitt Romney during an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.
"You know, kids have good instincts," Obama said. "They look at the other guy and say, 'Well, that's a bulls----er, I can tell.'"
In response to both slurs, the Twitterverse, in particular, almost instantaneously erupted with outrage and high fives, depending on the political perspective of those sending the tweets.
Indeed, Twitter has become a major force this election season, providing a platform for immediate spleen-venting. Others argue it's also shaping media coverage of major political events like debates, television interviews and conventions.
But is it a positive force?
"It's just a massive network of vitriol," Marty Wiseman, a political science professor at Mississippi State University, said Friday.
"If you look at it literally as a free speech and democracy issue, Twitter has got to be a good thing, because now everyone is having their say. But the overwhelming negativity to it, it's further dividing us, and it's reflected in the coverage of the race, and that carries over into real life."
Few people on Twitter or other social media platforms are outlining what their candidate stands for, Wiseman added.
"You have much less rhetoric out there that favours a candidate and much more vitriol against a candidate. There are people who really become exercised about the other guy without making a case for what their guy would do. It's all about hating the other guy."
Pundits have been calling the 2012 vote the "Twitter election" for months. It's easy to see why, more election-related tweets are sent every two days this year than were sent out entirely in the leadup to the 2008 vote, Twitter officials say.
Indeed, the tweet volume for the election four years ago represents only about six minutes of tweets in 2012.
Twitter has undeniably exploded over the past four years to become a forum for civic debate, with almost 110 million users in the United States.
The first presidential debate on Oct. 3 was the most tweeted political event in Twitter's six-year history. Juan Williams, a longtime U.S. political reporter, wrote this week of his astonishment at seeing how addicted his fellow journalists have become to Twitter and Facebook as he covered the Denver showdown.
"I was genuinely surprised that so many of my colleagues, honest, solid, hardworking journalists, were not actually watching the debate on television or their computer screens," he wrote in a column on the Fox News website.
"Instead, their eyes were perpetually glued to their iPads, Blackberrys and iPhones reading what other people were saying about the debate in Twitter feeds and Facebook posts. That instantaneous scoring distorted the reality of the debates for the journalists and the surrogates in the spin room."
What's more, argues Wiseman, that type of rapid-fire, often nasty feedback influences political campaigns.
"Even the politicians themselves won't state their positions clearly, it seems, because they don't want to give their opponents any ammunition in this hyper-active era of social media," he said.
"Once it gets rolling on Twitter it just mounts; it becomes punch, counter-punch."
Read more World News
- 80-year-old stands on top of the world
- Tiger gets hairball surgery
- Stockholm riots continue
- UK attack could be terrorists
- Captors release 7
- FBI kill man in Orlando
- Trial set for Costa Concordia captain
- Climbers aged 80 & 81 race up Everest
- Search for tornado survivors nears end
- Race on to find tornado survivors
- Suicide in Notre Dame Cathedral
- 14 Afghan police killed in day of attacks
(Click for RSS instructions.)