Direct to audience: A look at S.D. politicians’ use of Twitter in 2021

KELOLAND.com Original

FILE (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Many South Dakotans are not active users on Twitter.

But that doesn’t mean the social media platform doesn’t affect South Dakotans. Twitter is currently used by South Dakota’s statewide elected officeholders to varying degrees. 

Communication via Twitter, which was created in 2006, grew in its influence across the country and in South Dakota in March.

Dr. Pamela Carriveau, a political science professor at Black Hills State University, spoke with KELOLAND News about how Gov. Kristi Noem, Sen. John Thune, Sen. Mike Rounds and Rep. Dusty Johnson utilizes their each own Twitter profile.  

While finding ways to connect with voters is nothing new for any politician, Carriveau agreed the methods of connecting continue to change. 

“The advantage of using social media if you’re a politician is you can go directly to your audience. You can go directly to the masses,” Carriveau said. “You can avoid the gatekeeping, that can happen, with traditional media. And there’s something really attractive about that.” 

She also noted advantages from posting on social media include avoiding challenging questions, explaining answers and gaining time to respond.

In the past few weeks, Gov. Noem and both South Dakota Senators have used the platform to provoke more responses from users, which in turn, gains attention.  

Last Sunday, Gov. Noem and rapper Lil Nas X got into a Twitter exchange after she commented on his “Satan Shoes.”

Last week, a tweet from Sen. Rounds garnered some national attention. The tweet was a picture of his bronze statue in Pierre holding a shotgun along with the words, “Hey Joe Biden come and take it. Careful she bites too.”

Last Friday, Sen. Thune posted photos on Twitter from the U.S.-Mexican border while noting “facilities are dangerously overcrowded, border patrol officers are overwhelmed & under-supported, smugglers (often w/ties to drug cartels) are profiting massively, hundreds of scared kids are on their own.” Sen. Thune then spoke with KELOLAND News about what he saw. 

Carriveau said Sen. Rounds, Sen. Thune and Rep. Johnson all tweet a lot about South Dakota and visits around the state. 

“Those kinds of tweets don’t get much engagement,” Carriveaus said. “The tweets that talk about the border crisis. Or, the tweets, where Senator Rounds talked about D.C. statehood and especially his tweet about gun control, that got a lot of national attention.”

Carriveau said research has shown members in the minority party are more likely to use social media. 

“The research is finding that it’s not necessarily used by all politicians the same way,” she said. “The politicians on the extreme ends of the spectrum are more likely to use social media.” 

Carriveau said typically if the ratio between likes and comments leans heavy to more comments on a particular tweet, it usually points to something controversial. 

Who is on Twitter? Who are politicians speaking to? 

Data released by Twitter from the fourth quarter in 2020, says the platform has more than 192 million daily active users. 

A 2019 study from the Pew Research Center, showed the average U.S. adult posts twice and favorites one tweet per month, follows 89 accounts, and has 29 followers. The study also pointed out 13% of adults in the U.S. keep their accounts private.

On Twitter, Gov. Noem has more than 400,000 twitter followers, Sen. Thune has more than 110,000 twitter followers, Sen. Rounds has more than 30,000 twitter followers and Rep. Dusty Johnson has more than 10,000 twitter followers. 

For comparison, the South Dakota Democratic Party account has 5,900 twitter followers. Former President Barack Obama has the most twitter followers of any person with 130 million. 

Carriveau said the audience of each person’s twitter account is telling. 

“You know, there are not 400,000 Twitter users in South Dakota. She (Gov. Noem) clearly is talking to a much larger audience than just South Dakota voters or South Dakota residents when she’s tweeting,” Carriveau said. “I think you can see that with the kinds of things that she tweets, compared to say the things that Dusty Johnson tweets or Mike Rounds tweets.” 

Early on, Carriveau said social media was celebrated as a democrtaic tool. She pointed to how it helped people communicate during the Arab Spring, a series of anti-government protests and uprisings in the early 2010s. More recent research shows how social media is used to divide people and amp up conflict. 

“At first, we’re thinking ‘Oh, this is gonna be really great, how democratic,’” Carriveau said. “Now we’re finding out it’s a really effective tool for authoritarians.”

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