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Transparency in Social Media

BY Fred Stutzman | Thursday, April 26 2007

As David and Stowe and a bunch of other people have noticed, Barack Obama is Twittering. Now, I'll gladly apologize if I'm wrong on this, but it appears that Mr. Obama didn't write his first Twitter. There's just something patently un-senatorial about all of those exclamation points.

John Edwards, another famous Twittering presidential candidate, got me thinking about something when Twitters started appearing with the prefix (from staff). I liked the honesty there, it was surprising and refreshing. You see, the Twitter feed, and social media in general, is somewhat different from the scripted press release or the crafted blog post. When it comes to these "important" messages, they're always going to be crafted by campaign message folks, and I'm OK with that (well that, plus I don't trust emails or blog posts).

However, with social media, there's something a good bit more personal about the nature of the interaction. A Twitter is not a blog post or a press release or a campaign email, it is a one-to-one interaction between Twitterers. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but it feels personal - and because it feels personal, I want to know who the Twitter is actually coming from. Does Edwards or Obama actually need to type the Twitter? No, sure, they can dictate it, but when I get a Twitter from John Edwards or Barack Obama, I want that Twitter to be from them, not an over-caffeinated message person.

This is the interesting thing about social media - it creates the perception of personal communication. Obviously, we can't reasonably expect the candidate to maintain their Myspace or Facebook profiles, but when we get these messages from candidates in a personal context - such as Twitter - shouldn't there be a little disclosure about who that message is actually coming from?

Perhaps I'm overreacting to the inherent spamminess of Obama's first Twitter. It's not a good start, as it misunderstands the medium (note to Mr. Obama's staff - these people care about the candidate's day to day, not his spam). As we interact with presidential candidates in the social media context, where communication is personal, I think there should be more transparency. I want to know when I'm getting a message from the candidate, or a message from a staffer. I'll forgive you if you're not around to post and a staffer has to take care of it, but I won't tolerate it when your avatar lies to me.