By Anne King
The Twitter effect in politics is now undeniable. In the Arab Spring movements, Twitter and other social media tools made a vital contribution given their ability to disseminate news and connect individuals across class, cultural, and other barriers. (And more infamously, Twitter was responsible for the fall of a congressman.)
Recently, post-election tweets by two Twitter users from very different political arenas caught my eye — and the attention of many other observers. Aleksei Navalny (@navalny) is an influential Russian blogger who is extremely critical of the current government and the country’s widespread corruption. Marion Barry (@marionbarryjr) is the former mayor of Washington, DC and current representative for Ward 8 on the DC City Council.
Navalny is undeniably a strong political force in Russia; his name is mentioned as a possible contender for public office (should Russia’s election system improve).
Navalny is a prolific user of Twitter, and his tweets on March 5, just after Russia’s recent election, were particularly striking. Vladimir Putin’s win in the election set off protests throughout Moscow, and Navalny and many others were arrested.
And then Navalny started to tweet from the police van. (It’s somewhat surprising that Navalny was able to hold on to mobile device while he was detained.) Navalny was released later that night after several hours. But he managed to post a number of tweets throughout the night — which were remarkable for their real-time view of his detention.
Washington, DC held its primary this Tuesday, and Barry was up for re-election to his City Council seat. He won the Democratic primary in a landslide, clinching the election itself in this heavily Democratic town.
As election results poured in, Barry took to Twitter and “twagged” (tweeting with “swag”) about his victory. One tweet included the statement “Twitter=Revolution.” But on Thursday, Barry’s Twitter feed took a different turn. At a victory celebration on Tuesday, Barry made remarks criticizing Asian-owned businesses in Southeast Washington. In the face of criticism from the press and other public officials, Barry defended his comments on Twitter — eventually issuing an apology Thursday evening.
Barry’s Twitter feed is striking because it offers an example of a politician directly using Twitter to comment on political issues and respond to criticism — often, it appears, with little intervention by handlers or advisors. (According to the Washington Post columnist Mike DeBonis (@mikedebonis), Barry has said that he dictates his tweets to an assistant.)