Social scientists’ analysis of 290,119,348 tweets from 193,522 “politically engaged” Twitter users during the 2012 presidential campaign conventions and debates found little creative thinking, and a slavish blitz of retweeting “elites” like @billmaher and @seanhannity.
“Frankly, we’re rather disappointed,” says Cornell’s Drew Margolin. “Social media has so much potential to improve the diversity of voices and quality of exchanges in political discussion by giving individuals the technological capability to compete with the mass media in disseminating information, setting agendas and framing conversation.”
Instead, says the Cornell assistant professor of communication (co-author of a May 2014 PLoS ONE report, “Rising Tides or Rising Stars? Dynamics of Shared Attention on Twitter during Media Events”), “during live media events when the largest number of people are paying attention, people move away from this deliberative potential by replacing existing interpersonal social dynamics with increased collective attention to existing ‘stars.’”
Those stars would be Twitter users like the liberal comedian Bill Maher ’78, the most retweeted in three of the four candidate debates, and Sean Hannity, the conservative media personality who popularly opined, “Middle class crushed last 4 years” during the third debate.