I realized something this week.
A lot of politicians, including our own Mayor Jerry Sanders, are using Twitter to communicate with us all in a new way.
But the dynamics of Twitter make it so that the social media application could very easily become a constant, open-to-everyone press conference. In the past, news consumers couldn't really go to press conferences, and they relied on reporters to ask the right questions, challenge the politicians and report the story appropriately. Now things have changed.
You can all get on Twitter, and by putting @MayorSanders in your post or "tweet" you will get his attention. At least, you will get the attention of whoever mans his Twitter feed.
Sure, he can ignore you. But if you have a few hundred followers (people who have signed up to see what you write) he's essentially ignoring them too. If he doesn't want to do this, he can simply announce that he's not going to do Twitter anymore. Shut down the account, donesky.
But if you're going to Twitter, you can't just treat it like another way to post your good-news press releases. Yet this is how most local politicians have treated it so far. Councilmen Todd Gloria (@ToddGloria), Carl DeMaio (@CarldeMaio) and Kevin Faulconer (@Kevin_Faulconer) all just use it as another way to get their canned statements out. Though occasionally they have something out of the ordinary to say or they respond to a casual mention from one of their followers or a local reporter.
This isn't going to last and they should get used to it. They've now basically invited their hundreds if not thousands of followers to ask them questions or challenge them in this new forum. Now, again, they can ignore these challenges but they do so at the risk of looking bad to the hundreds or thousands of people who might see it all unfold.
Again, it's a new, virtual, totally public press conference.
I think it's great. Sign up and follow me and everyone here.
I've been challenging some of the Twittering politicians like this for the last couple of weeks, feeling my legs in this new sphere.
Specifically, I've been hoping the mayor would respond to points I've made about his effort to underfund the pension system again perhaps to avoid bankruptcy.
Then, the other day, a British guy mentioned @MayorSanders in a tweet and asked our mayor what advice he would have for British politicians who are Twittering.
Mayor Sanders did not ignore him.
Here was Sanders' response to the British guy going by the name "indigofloyd," and who describes himself as a "cat whisperer" and "amateur philosopher" (aren't we all?).
@indigofloyd: The inherent formality of government is incompatible with social media, so my advice would be: Don't overthink it.
3:10 PM Jul 29th from web
The response to the British guy came after a long period of silence by Sanders on Twitter. So I made note of it. Yes, there was a bit of snark:
He tweets! Part II — @MayorSanders ignores local mentions but replies to "amateur philosopher" in England w/ advice for British gov.
6:40 PM Jul 29th from TweetDeck
After days of my needling the mayor, I didn't expect him to respond. But he did:
@scottlewisVOSD: I answered that gentleman's sincere question. You don't ask questions, because you already have your answers.
8:44 PM Jul 29th from web
Snap! A clever and tough retort. Touché. I made note of how impressed I was.
@MayorSanders yes. See that's what I'm talking about. Nice one and point taken.
9:03 PM Jul 29th from TweetDeck in reply to MayorSanders
So I decided to seize the opportunity. I'll let you follow the back and forth. Sanders' spokeswoman Rachel Laing took over for him.
After @MayorSanders zapped me (http://bit.ly/xjZDZ
) I will only ask sincere q's. No. 1: Why would you consider underfunding the pension?
2:32 PM Jul 30th from TweetDeck
@scottlewisVOSD: @MayorSanders is on record saying "We'll pay our full ARC. SDCERS determines the ARC; all SD does is pay it." Period.
2:44 PM Jul 30th from web in reply to scottlewisVOSD
The ARC, by the way, is the Annual Required Contribution to the city's pension fund. In other words, it's the bill the pension system gives the city each year to make sure there is enough money in the portfolio to pay the pensions of all the city's past and current workers.
I then responded to Laing's point about the ARC. She's basically saying the mayor has no control over what the bill is and he has to pay it. But this is disingenuous. The mayor and his staff are actively working to lower the ARC. Some are worried that if they don't, the city will go bankrupt.
I pointed this out to Laing:
@RachelLaing He also put together a panel to validate ways to lower the ARC.
2:53 PM Jul 30th from TweetDeck in reply to RachelLaing
Now, those replies — where the tweet starts with @ — are only seen by the people who both follow me and Laing. You can change this by simply not letting the "@" start the tweet. I did that so all the people who follow me could catch wind of the exchange.
So @RachelLaing (@MayorSanders spokeswoman) sez he can't determine pension bill city has to pay. So why is he trying? http://bit.ly/w8Sp3
3:09 PM Jul 30th from TweetDeck
Note that I linked to this story.
@scottlewisVOSD: You are making a huge leap in determining motives and intentions.
3:54 PM Jul 30th from web in reply to scottlewisVOSD
@RachelLaing What's the intention? Goldstone said pension bd has to consider city's finances & he put together panel to get rid of corridor.
4:02 PM Jul 30th from TweetDeck in reply to RachelLaing
@scottlewisVOSD: You could compile all statements by Jay in Rani's story
and reach a completely different conclusion than the one you have.
4:35 PM Jul 30th from web in reply to scottlewisVOSD
@RachelLaing OK, good. So the city is not trying to lower the ARC or get rid of the corridor? The mayor will say he has no interest in this?
4:37 PM Jul 30th from TweetDeck in reply to RachelLaing
@scottlewisVOSD - SDCERS unilaterally determines the ARC payment. City pays.
about 21 hours ago from web in reply to scottlewisVOSD
@scottlewisVOSD - If you want to dig deeper and learn something, let's set up a real interview. This is too complex for 140-character quips.
about 21 hours ago from web in reply to scottlewisVOSD
OK, @RachelLaing but it's easy: If @MayorSanders isn't trying to lower the pension bill. What's he doing? I'll publish as much as you want.
about 21 hours ago from TweetDeck
@scottlewisVOSD: Just went and re-read Rani's story. There's really nothing to add to what Jay said then.
about 1 hour ago from web in reply to scottlewisVOSD
So @RachelLaing 140 characters was actually too many?
about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck
She says the mayor is not doing anything to lower the pension bill the city faces. But she won't clarify what it is, then, that he is doing.
Anyway, I found that interesting — thought you would too.