The tweet of defeat


Like it or not, the presidential campaign season is getting cranked up again, as candidates begin making their way to New Hampshire and Iowa to test out messages on would-be voters.

In today’s races, the teams crafting a campaign’s message are also orchestrating its social-media efforts. But as in all forms of communication, the medium is the message, and a study of hundreds of candidates’ Twitter feeds has found that what’s said in 140 characters often does not adhere to the traditional forms of campaign communiques.

In a report, published this month in the journal New Media and Society, Michael Mirer of the University of Wisconsin and Leticia Bode of Georgetown looked at the Twitter accounts of over 200 congressional and gubernatorial hopefuls at the end of the 2010 midterm races, focusing on how those candidates chose to acknowledge their win — or more often, their defeat. They compared the tweet language with that typically used in concession speeches.


There are a set of themes candidates usually touch on when giving such speeches — among the most popular are the promise of the democratic process or a desire for good luck for the winner.

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The researchers looked to see how often candidates’ tweets touched on those ideas. They found that of the 200 candidates they followed, only 30 acknowledged their rival by name. Few spoke of the beauty of democratic principles or made an appeal for unity.

The reason for this distinction, Mirer says, isn’t just due to the 140-character limit. It’s that within a campaign, candidates saw their Twitter followers as a different audience than the general public — a more partisan group — that didn’t need these assurances, as they were likely just as bummed as the candidate that they didn’t win the campaign.

“High-minded statements about the political system and its virtues allow losing politicians to garner praise from media observers,” the authors write. “Such stagecraft, however, is unnecessary on Twitter, and the number of neutral observers watching likely is small.”

What interests Mirer now is how concession speeches will evolve on Twitter.


“The concession speech as this ritual was shaped entirely by media,” Mirer said. “The medium by which these things are broadcast really changes the way these things are shaped.”


Janelle Nanos