twitter, TV viewing, and political discourse

As one who follows Australian politics with some level of interest, but not generally up-to-the-minute excitement, I was surprised to see the hashtag “#spill” start trending on twitter late this afternoon / early this evening. When I tried to search the tag itself, I had some kind of connectivity problem, so it wasn’t until after 9:30pm that I managed to get back to looking at twitter.

It seemed increasingly that the hashtag had something to do with a political party leadership debate, and before long, I saw some tweets about a live press conference on Sky News. This wasn’t much use to me, as I don’t have Sky News at home, so I kept watching the tweets fly past – there was more and more buzz around a Prime Ministerial press conference at 10:10pm.

With the TV on in the background as I updated the cafe review posts that were due for uploading tonight, I noticed a few interruptions on the TV, and then suddenly ABC1 cut across to a press conference – Prime Minister Rudd was about to talk to a scrum of assembled journalists about the ongoing viability of his leadership.

While watching the press conference on TV, I kept referring to a few twitter searches – I was no longer limited to my own impressions of the TV, but I could read tweets from people – some I knew, some I didn’t. It was possible from this to get a real-time sense of public reaction (at least the segment of the people who are on twitter) to the conference as it was happening: this isn’t something I’ve experienced before in Australian politics, even if it’s a regular occurrence for particular TV shows.

As beaney has blogged in the past, this combination of TV viewing and tweeting is still emerging, but I think as mainstream media continues to evolve, we’ll see a greater blurring of the lines between broadcasting and its surrounding communities.

Part of watching TV – and particularly watching political coverage – and a twitter feed is to be able to gauge from these short messages not just what a particular person is trying to communicate, but what axe they have to grind. Part of the problem with trying to use a medium like twitter for serious discourse is its social nature – tweets that are particularly snarky, or tap into the meme of the day are more likely to be retweeted than those that offer insights or more in-depth commentary.

Will we see political parties setting up large armies of twitter accounts that are attempting to sway public opinion? Will our political leaders be increasingly engaged in social channels (at least one immediately made her voting preference known)? What do you think?

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