Twitter could be the great equalizer of online media. No one is denied a Twitter account, all tweeting is free, and the same law governs everyone’s tweets: thou shalt not type more than 140 characters. Is there really anything wrong with succumbing to the shortened attention spans of web users whose attention is being pulled in every direction with sidebar ads, pop-ups, notifications, new inbox arrivals, etc?
Twitter allows everyone the same opportunity to quickly grab your attention and make themselves heard. So it stands that those who go to work for the American people in public office should also communicate with their constituents on their level, and in "web-speak" that translates to using social media. Now, not everyone online tweeting (the Pew Center estimates in 2012 only 15% of adults were Twitter users) but a good deal of young people are (that same study estimates one quarter of internet users ages 18-29), and it also stands that young people have the most to gain by being civically engaged as they are the stewards of our future communities.
Here is a look at the 10 most-followed U.S. politicians on Twitter, and what they do to engage their web audience.
1. President Barack Obama (@BarackObama):
He's the leader of the free world, and that makes him a pretty popular person regardless of his Twitter stats. Posts number almost 20 per day sometimes. His Twitter account is mostly managed by a professional organization called "XXX." And he hones in on a specific area, creates a hashtag for it or "retweets" and sticks with it for an extended period of time.
No one can argue the strong following Schwarzenegger had while he was in office as the Governor of California. Sure, he was the punch line to a few jokes, he was (somewhat mockingly) known as "The Governator" in a reference to one of his more popular starring roles (Terminator), and he joins the club of entertainment bigwigs that made it into politics (Jesse Ventura, Al Franken). Now that he is no longer Governor, Arnold's Twitter account is mostly promoting his newest film, his love of bodybuilding, and the various appearances, interviews and festivals in his namesake (@ArnoldFest).
3. Former Vice President Al Gore (@algore):
Al Gore is an eco-humanitarian these days, using his political clout to help form policy about climate change (he is one of the few politicians that can claim to be a Nobel Peace Prize winner as well as an Oscar winner, both for his film An Inconvenient Truth). His Twitter account is mainly used to promote his agenda on improving the environmental causes of climate change, with a few mentions of speaking engagements and book releases throughout. He tweets frequently, and with good reason; as the great Muppet, Kermit, once said: It's not easy being green.
4. Senator John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain):
John McCain's main following most likely comes from his bid for presidency in 2008. He's still a senator and working for the people, recently his name has come up in the media for issues related to immigration reform and he is also actively engaged with discussions about the military. McCain's Twitter account shows someone who is actively engaged with the top matters of government in Washington, D.C. and who also has a life outside of Capitol Hill. Maybe his pro-Twitter daughter, Meghan McCain (@McCainBlogette), has been giving him tips (@McCainBlogette)
This Twitter account is mostly just floating detritus from a past presidential election, almost four months ago. Romney was a very close runner-up, so it makes sense that he would have lots of followers. What's Romney doing on his Twitter now that the election is over? Just a single retweet from his wife about how they have 20 grandchildren. It's safe to say that this Twitter account is not trying to gain new followers.
6. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich):
If there were a meter for measuring how exciting a Twitter account is, you would not need to use it on Newt Gingrich's account. Maybe if there were a Twitter sincerity meter, it would be more useful: his tweets genuinely sound like something Gingrich would say. He is mostly commenting on issues with a standard Republican response, but I love the inflection used in his tweet from the State of the Union address:
Looking forward to Marco Rubio response, hard to believe President Obama’s news ideas will not add a single dime, a single dime! — Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) February 13, 2013
7. Mayor Cory Booker (@CoryBooker):
Kudos to Newark Mayor Cory Booker for keeping local government in the social media-sphere! This Twitter is used to give updates on construction, electric outages, trash collection, and quotes from famous authors, jokes — Booker keep it real. This is what Twitter was meant for: keep me entertained or informed in under 140 characters.
8. Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom):
Newsom is a former mayor of San Francisco and now is more of a socialite, similar to Al Gore but with less action. He has a book out, Citizenville, about revitalizing democracy through technology. Being a former mayor of the tech-Mecca that is San Francisco, I'd say it's an apt position for him to take. You can tell he is a popular man in California by all the retweets from residents. He's bringing digital issues to light, and Twitter is the most suitable place for doing just that.
9. Sarah Palin (@SarahPalinUSA):
Media darling Sarah Palin is a Twitter force because she has the media in the palm of her hand, lest we forget the years of SNL sketches that were born from her media appearances. She is a close runner-up to Newt Gingrich for "Most Sincere Politician on Twitter." She posts about the religion and gun rights just like she would speak to the press. Also, her incendiary Republican remarks on Twitter probably rack in new users daily:
Apparently President Obama can’t see Egypt and Libya from his house. On the anniversary of the worst terrorist... fb.me/2gAAca0wk
— Sarah Palin (@SarahPalinUSA) September 12, 2012
10. Speaker of the House John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner):
Why so serious? Speaker Boehner does not mess around on Twitter, he's all business, as his profile image would suggest. I really like his competing hashtag for the recent budget debate: #CutWaste versus Obama's #JobsNotCuts. He's on point, and that point is to defy all of the president's political motions in every venue possible; he is the personification of "eye's rolling toward the ceiling" if there ever was one.