What if political candidates could see the public’s reaction to their debate answers in real-time while they’re on stage? That’s the future laid out today at Stanford University during the Future Of Media Conference by Twitter’s Director of Content and Programming Chloe Sladden. If candidates saw tweets that they were dodging a question, they might suddenly become more forthcoming. Twitter is working to make this a reality as soon as this year’s Presidential debates.
“The essential mission of Twitter is that the more information that’s out there and the more dialogue, the smaller the worlds feels, and that has to lead to more understanding and empathy. Twitter did not cause the Arab Spring, but it’s powerful to be that sidekick and allow people to take a mission and grow a movement. Information wants to be free”, Sladden proclaimed.
In her keynote she described a pilot program run with Fox News during its broadcast of the South Carolina Republican debate. Viewers were asked to tweet a candidate’s name and “#dodge” or “#answer”. During breaks and after the debate, pundits broke down graphs of the responses, analyzing which candidates were perceived as transparent and who were ducking major issues.
That rapid feedback could sway public opinion, but more transformative is its ability to change a candidate’s behavior in real-time. Sladden revealed to me afterwards that Fox News didn’t want to show the graphs to the candidates candidates because Twitter isn’t a representative sample of the United States. Influencers and technologists might be overrepresented, they said.
Still, Sladden told me she hoped another TV network or the Commission On Presidential Debates would display the dodge vs answer graphs or other responses on screens in the debate hall. This way candidates could realize they were dodging a question and dig deeper into specifics about their position. That’s when Twitter evolves from a reaction medium to a propellant of transparent democracy.
Sladden concluded “My mission is not to drive one candidate over another, it’s to get more information out so people can make the right decision come November.”