Per S.E.’s rant on Tuesday and yesterday's discussion on "insta-reactions," got me thinking about Twitter. It's clear that Twitter will play a role leading up to, during, and in the aftermath of tonight’s presidential debate. As Obama and Romney duke it out on stage, pundits, journalists, fact checkers and tweeters with allegiances to both sides will be fighting it out online in 140 characters or less. But aside from it's amazing ability to make even the smartest people speak in hashtag (#guilty), the social media site does serve a higher purpose.
As S.E. pointed out, Twitter serves a democratizing function: filling the virtual political arena with more voices than just those of official journalists. But more than adding voices to the conversation, maybe Twitter will cause voters to start holding their candidates more accountable for being accurate.
The word that comes to mind is: “Truthiness.” Coined by Stephen Colbert back in 2005, it's a fact that feels right but isn't necessarily accurate. It's the constant battle between what our hearts want to hear, and what our heads know is true. And truthiness seems to be what we’re getting. Time Magazine’s newest cover story, released a day early so that debate viewers can keep it in the back of their minds as they watch, tells voters to ask more for themselves from candidates. “Fact Wars” author Michael Scherer points out that since 1776 name-calling and zinging have always been part of the political election process, but in an age where the Internet allows us to instantly check facts that make us cock our heads and say “huh?” I wonder: why aren't we asking more questions and demanding more accuracy?
Maybe it’s because we can’t play quick enough catch up. In a media age where ads, attacks, and facts are put out with the click of a mouse into an over-saturated pool of political information, by the time the claims are substantiated, they've already sunk to the bottom. More often than not, people hear something, react, then forget just as quickly. Maybe it feels good to hear our side of things reaffirmed, no matter how wild the statistic seems; and maybe it’s nice to be able to scream at the other team when we know they’re stretching the truth about our guy. These could all be valid reasons for why voters aren't punishing faulty facts.
But I also hear a lot of complaining about how partisan politics has become, and many of my friends tout shows like HBO’s The Newsroom for its ambition of ‘truth over ratings’ journalism, which shows that they clearly idolize and aspire to having politicians tell them the honest truth - complete with honest facts.
So we stand at this kind of crossroad: what feels good and sounds good, and what's actually good. Sometimes these two are the same. Not everything we're told are lies or stretched versions of numbers customized to fit a political point. But as we watch this debate tonight, watch with an eye for the facts. Whoever you’re voting for - or thinking about voting for if anyone reading this post is one of the rare undecided voters out there! – think about the truth. Because it’s just like Scherer writes: until the voters start demanding real fact and truth from candidates, “there is little reason to suspect” that the deception game will change.
I for one just followed some political fact checkers in anticipation of adding them to my list of Debate Twitter Buddies for this evening. S.E's right: politics is far more fun in groups - especially if you can call "BS" on the candidates together.