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February 18, 2011

@MayorEmanuel: Keep up the good work

Politicians' use of social media tends to be boring and artificial

It all started on a late-September day, in a blaze of glory and F-words.

“These people are (expletive) joking, right? Give me back my (expletive) house, or I will burn it down around you.”

And with that, Rahm Emanuel’s inner monologue became a Twitter persona in the form of MayorEmanuel, the anonymous and painfully funny character that has owned this year’s election. And aside from captioning the real Emanuel’s every move with R-rated language, MayorEmanuel is proving the value of fake Twitter accounts in changing political communication.

There are some very serious adults hoping the account goes away when (If? When.) Emanuel becomes mayor, saying that it distracts from real topics of discussion, but MayorEmanuel and other fake Twitter accounts like it are finally bringing some accountability to politicians’ social media feeds.

Elected officials, it seems, simply have to use social media these days. If they’re not friending or reTweeting at their constituents, they’re just not doing enough to reach the voters anymore. They have to make themselves sound normal to draw in the huge amount of voters who use these sites, but frankly, most of the officials who use social media fail miserably at sounding human.

It’s a proven fact that politicians who try to sound hip on the Internet wind up sounding completely unhip. Politicians, because of age requirements and incumbent advantages, are almost always just too old to be Internet cool. Their use of dated Internet lingo in blatantly political messages is just painful to read, and it drives home the point that political figures just don’t understand how social media work yet.

That’s not the case for the people behind the best fake accounts. Those people get it all the way; that’s why MayorEmanuel has almost three times the number of followers of the four real candidates combined. MayorEmanuel sounds like an actual (very funny) guy, and that’s the case with these accounts in general. The fake accounts wind up sounding more human—more real—than the real accounts.

The fake personalities wind up forcing the actual officials to be truly authentic with their social media communication. The more MayorEmanuel burns the real Rahm, the more he’ll have to learn about communicating with voters through social media. For all of the posts that are just there for entertainment, the fake accounts do bring up real criticisms, and lined side-by-side next to that criticism, contrived answers from officials just aren’t going to work anymore. At some point, the brutal honesty of fake accounts will make the transparently fake garbage that fills most politicians’ Facebook and Twitter feeds completely unacceptable.

Readers of this column are probably expecting the “stick to the issues” war cry somewhere in here. It’s not coming. MayorEmanuel has served as another sideshow to this year’s mayoral campaign, but there’s no actual damage here because of the very nature of Twitter.

Surfing the Internet is fundamentally mindless. The reason that things like Twitter exist at all is so that people have distractions at work. Otherwise, why would blogs have “NSFW” tags at all?

You’re at work, and you’ve got that 2:30 (or 3:30 (or 4:30)) feeling; you’re not going to log onto the Chicago Tribune website to read about tax increment financing. (I mean, not that you’d read the Tribune anyway, but you get the point.) No, you’re reading up on Chad Ochocinco’s latest philosophizing or trying to find the newest lolcat. Or combining Chad Ochocinco with a lolcat or something.

The entire point of Twitter (and basically every extremely popular website) is that people are looking for stuff that they wouldn’t miss if they never saw it. I’m on YouTube all the time, but it’s not like my life would be any worse if I couldn’t watch Kanye West saying that Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time. (Of all time.) The content I actually need just doesn’t exist in the right format on Twitter.

If I’m looking for real news, I need to get more than 140 characters of it. When news came out that Emanuel might not make it onto the ballot because of his “residency malfunction,” how many people thought, “Dang, where’s my Twitter account?” And if Twitter actually mattered for communicating the news, the headlines after the Illinois Supreme Court ordered him back on would have read something like, “Rahm: ‘Thx for your support.’”

A handful of people will probably vote for Emanuel just because of the added visibility that the account provides. In general, though, fake accounts are just the new generation’s brand of comedy, and they actually force better communication from the real officials.

And when we’re done laughing at the new and creative ways MayorEmanuel finds to use profanity in describing press conferences, we can get back to focusing on the important stuff, like who’s strung out on crack and who’s not.

Jake Grubman is a fourth-year in the College majoring in Law, Letters, and Society.

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