From Hope to Hashtags

Bill Clinton’s Twitter presence could change social media for the better

On April 6, with the guidance of fake news icon Stephen Colbert, former President Bill Clinton sent out his first scintillating tweet under the handle @PrezBillyJeff: “Just spent an amazing time with Colbert! Is he sane? He is cool! #cgiu.” Since then, Clinton has transitioned to the more professional handle @billclinton and has shown no signs of abandoning the social media website that has swept the nation.

Whether Clinton is yet a Twitter master remains unclear (or may depend upon what the meaning of what the word “is” is)—the former president has amassed just over 550,000 followers, while more than 38 million subscribe to 140-character updates from Justin Bieber. But, although Bieber’s tweets may spread joy to tweens around the world, Clinton’s decision to take his brand to the Twittersphere has the potential to do something bigger. We see Clinton’s move to Twitter as a step toward bringing down walls between ordinary people and decision-makers.

Twitter, for better or for worse, is a disarmingly intimate platform. Every minute on the website, users of all ages share both their banal daily activities and their deepest thoughts and fears, complete with ampersats and hashtags, with friends and strangers alike. Politicians, however, usually err on the side of impersonality in their Twitter conduct. For example, Barack Obama’s Twitter profile (which, incidentally, also has fewer followers than Bieber’s) rarely features tweets directly from the president. On the other side of the aisle, Speaker of the House John Boehner’s contributions to the Twitterverse mostly include links that explain legislative battles.

Obama’s and Boehner’s tweets have merits of their own, but it is refreshing to see a widely admired elder statesman like Clinton communicate with his followers in a more lighthearted, down-to-earth manner. Clinton’s experimentation with hashtags along with his references to Ellen DeGeneres and Usher display a willingness to connect with the online masses. We hope that average citizens having the chance to interact with political figures as influential as Clinton will start trending as quickly as an expertly crafted Twitter topic and that the isolation some constituents feel from the political process will lessen with the change.

In addition, Clinton’s philanthropic work might gain notice and funding from his newly gained Twitter followers. While some former presidents have dedicated their post-Oval Office lives to such noble pursuits as the art of self-portrait painting, others like Clinton and President Jimmy Carter have elected to improve global health and fight for human rights. Twitter can aid those causes by spreading the positive messages crusaders like Clinton and Carter promote.

Although celebrity tweeters are unfortunately wont to fumble, broadcasting mistakes to millions, we have faith in Clinton not to commit too many Twitter faux pas. Yes, Bubba may have been caught with his pants down before, but we believe he has learned from his mistakes. Using his Twitter feed, Clinton has the opportunity to personalize the political and philanthropic to civilians through the power of social media.

As the Big Dog himself tweeted last week, “#thisisgreat.”

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