Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie and the trouble with political candidates on social media (guest column)


Two days ago, Republican Presidential Candidate and current Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal flew too close to the Twitter sun and got burned. Someone on Jindal’s campaign thought it would be a good idea to start an #ASKBOBBY session between the candidate and Twitter. The response was a swift and relentless trolling of sarcastic questions about Jindal’s character and his policies.

Not to be outdone, Republican Presidential Candidate and current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also ventured out into Twitter traffic and not unsurprisingly was roasted by his own #Tellinglikeitis hashtag.

This isn’t a new phenomenon; in the Internet Mistakes dictionary, Weiner, Anthony, ranks as probably the most infamous of the bunch. Let’s not also forget John McCain tweeting Snooki to discuss tanning beds, and the Gangnam Style and Harlem Shake videos from U.S. Sens. Alan Simpson and Mitch McConnell, respectively.

Also worth noting, the rich Twitter history of Jim Kenney, who’s now the Democratic Nominee for mayor of Philadelphia.

All of them failed badly. But yet they keep trying.

This begs the question — do campaigns and candidates really understand how to use social media? I hate to do the “old people should stay off of social media” thing but there’s a reason my grandmother (God bless her) doesn’t have wifi or a use for it. Social media isn’t a town hall with standards and decorum. Its a free-for-all where anything can and usually will happen. It’s baffling that politicians who are generally disliked continue to venture out into a medium that is mostly occupied by people who aren’t their biggest fans.

The problem lies at the crossroads of new media and engagement vs. traditional media. Traditional media had rules, standards and order. There was no immediate access to candidates. That meant newspapers, then TV and radio stations played huge roles in disseminating and filtering information. If you wanted to learn about a candidate you had to wait for someone else to give you a cleaned up version. It sounds bizarre now, but that’s how it was.

With new media, there’s no filter, no barrier and definitely no rules. You have immediate access to candidates and they multiple platforms on which they can engage you. And engage they do, with often hilarious results.

If you’re a candidate, most of this can be avoided with a little bit of common sense. Before you decide to use the Twitter ask yourself a few insightful questions. This will go a long way in deciding if you have any business having direct communication with the public. Please be honest with yourself or you’ll wind up as just another laughingstock footnote.

Do people generally like me? Am I polarizing? Have I ever been a zealot? Have I ever (let’s say) denied climate change, gravity or evolution? Have I spoken out against government, science or minority groups? Am I cool? (Nevermind.) Have I ever spoken out against gay marriage while being in a relationship with someone of my gender? If the answer is “yes”, “maybe” or “I’m not sure” to any of these, I strongly encourage you to walk away from the Twitter.

Trust me, its too easy to click a button to push send and instantly regret it.

Mustafa Rashed is the chairman of the Friends of Doug Oliver PAC and was the campaign manager for his mayoral campaign. He’s the President/CEO of Bellevue Strategies, a government relations and advocacy firm.

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