Twitter Fight Club
Tamara A. Small (Mount Allison University) has published work on online election campaigning in Party Politics and in the Canadian Journal of Political Science and about Internet regulation in Election Law Journal.
What do the leaders of Canada’s two largest parties have in common with celebutante Kim Kardashian? Michael Ignatieff and Stephen Harper, like Kardashian, are now members of an inclusive group called the Twitter Fight Club. The Twittersphere has emerged as a venue for celebrities to duke it out. This twight, as it is sometimes referred to, is all played out in public for the whole world to see. Kardashian, for instance, has engaged in a war of tweets with Demi Moore and Scott Disick (one of her sister’s boyfriends).
During the first week of the campaign, Ignatieff and Harper exchanged 140 character barbs over a possible mano-a-mano televised debate.
pmharper: @M_Ignatieff curiously, my team proposed 1:1 to TV consortium today; however, your team did not speak up.
M_Ignatieff: @pmharper A one-on-one debate? Any time. Any place.
Others twitterers got involved. BQ leader Gilles Duceppe (@GillesDuceppe) claimed that Harper and Ignatieff were excluding Québec from the debate while CBC personality Rick Mercer (@rickmercer) entered the fray, offering the two leaders $50,000 for the charity of their choice if they participated. Though the fight was short, more than 350,000 people were ringside following the various participants.
While Twitter is the technology de jour, online wars of words are not new in Internet politics. During the presidential debates between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000, both campaigns had real-time fact checking. Within seconds of claims being made on television by either presidential candidate, the rival campaigns posted an online rebuttal. In the 2004 Canadian election campaign, the Liberals launched the site StephenHarperSaid.ca focusing on the controversial comments made by the then newly elected leader of the Conservatives. Within days, the Conservative party responded by launching TeamMartinSaid.ca, which focused on quotes made by then Prime Minister Paul Martin and members of his caucus.
This Twitter fight demonstrates one of the many advantages of the Internet for politics: the speed of response made possible by direct access to the Web for immediate distribution. Politicians can react to events as they occur, and in an instant, a tweet can be picked up by followers, journalists, and opponents.
While brief, this fight shows how much Twitter has become a part of this campaign. Throughout the 2008 election campaign, Canada’s party leaders mainly used Twitter as a unidirectional, broadcast technology in the 2008 election — a place to tweet the latest press release. Most leaders Twitter pages didn’t allow @replies in the first place; let alone engaging with one another. Though press release tweets are still abound, there is much more engagement on Twitter in this campaign, including the occasional twight.