Twitter, Power and Fluency

Posted on May 17, 2010

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Robert Gibbs recently used Twitter to give a shout out to a local bike store.  Here is the original tweet, which reads:

#FF @CraigatFEMA so you know the latest @RevCycles a great bike store & special thanks to Ken and others there for helping me with my bike

This has been spun as an abuse of power by the right, of course, and i haven’t taken the time to see how the left is spinning it, but leaving the power issue aside for a minute, this gets me thinking about fluency.  

Generally, when people do something which looks like it violates a norm or a rule, there are three different reasons for it: 

  1. They are not fluent in the norms or rules, and accidentally violated those norms or rules
  2. They are fluent in the norms or rules, and intentionally violated those norms or rules because they don’t really agree with the norms or rules
  3. The are fluent in the norms or rules, and intentionally violated those norms or rules to undermine the norms or rules

This tweet on the official white house Twitter account seems to me to be a violation of a norm if not a rule that people in a position of power, as we currently conceive of the notion of governmental power, should be extremely careful not to promote one commercial enterprise over another when speaking/writing/tweeting on behalf of the institution (it might be a similar violation for me to promote one of my students’ side business ventures on an official university website).  

Assuming for a moment that it is a violation of a norm or a rule, which of the three reasons do you think accounts for it? And if it was a lack of fluency, was this a result of a misunderstanding of Twitter as an official channel? Or do you think it was not a violation of a norm or rule at all?

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