BYU team studies Twitter use by politicians

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Tweeting is not related to campaign desperation, according to a study by a BYU student-teacher team.

The study, performed by David Lassen, BYU political science graduate, and professor Adam Brown, found that a congressional candidate’s vulnerability to losing in the next election did not affect their likelihood to tweet.

“We thought it would be driven by electoral factors, and we were surprised it was driven more by personal taste,” Brown said.

The study began after Lassen and Brown started talking about the new communication technology.

“He came in just wanting to talk about Twitter,” Brown said.

The two formulated the question of likelihood of a member of Congress to tweet in the face of possible removal from office, and decided to use it as an indicator of the Twitter adoption rate among politicians.

“My thought was that this is a smart student, he’s asking a lot of good questions, so I thought, ‘let’s do this,’ ” Brown said.

The two were interested in how quickly politicians in general would begin to use Twitter, and cited the adoption of other forms of communication by politicians as their frame of reference.

“There haven’t been many times in history when you can watch members of Congress adapt to a new communication technology,” Brown said. “They had a chance to adapt to the development of radio and TV, and in the ’90s they adapted to having personal websites. It was a very short period of time between when the first member of Congress had a personal website and when they all had them.”

They predicted that, like personal websites, Twitter would catch on quickly after the first politicians began to use it.

“We said, ‘Here’s a rare opportunity to watch this unfold, it’s only going to be a couple years before they all have it,’ and in fact this has already happened,” Brown said. “We collected most of our data about a year and a half ago. At the time, about a third of the members of Congress were on Twitter. Now, it’s three quarters.”

The prevalence of members of Congress tweeting could affect how well students get to know the candidates.

“I think it’s definitely a tool that people can use to their advantage if they let people see the more human side of them and not just the political side,” said Ashlyn Nuss, 21, a political science major from Bakersfield, Calif.

Many BYU students have also begun to use Twitter, whether to follow the tweets of others or to tweet about their own experiences. The increased use of Twitter by members of Congress could even affect the way students vote.

“A lot of voting for me is the personal qualities of the candidate and not just their political views, so if I can get to know them better on a seemingly personal level then … it would sway my vote,” Nuss said.

Other students rely on the tweets of pundits, such as Stephen Colbert, to keep them entertained and informed on political issues and the activities of politicians.

“I don’t think it keeps me up to date that much on what they’re doing necessarily to progress in their campaigns, as much as I do it to laugh at the things they do in their daily life, at the mistakes they make or things they misquote,” said Spencer Vernon, 18, an undecided major from American Fork.

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