We rarely “tweet,” partly because it sounds so newfangled and sissified, partly because we can’t compress even a quick cussing into so few characters, but there’s no denying that Twitter is now the national soap box. Whatever people are “tweeting” about is what people are talking about, no matter what topics the big-time editors and producers might prefer, and we try to pay some heed to the vox populi.
With the year winding desultorily down and all the pundits writing about their looks back with regret, we were especially intrigued by a chart showing what topics “trended” on Twitter over the past months. The chart suggests that the public’s news judgment is no more astute than those of the big-time editors and producers, and that passing fancies can be become national obsessions before they pass, and that our own priorities are as usual markedly different from the average American’s.
One of the first noticeable spikes on the chart came after President Barack Obama’s annual State of the Union, which we had forgotten completely. We’re sure we wrote something or another about it, probably something snarky, but otherwise have no recollection of the event taking place. If anyone can recall a single line of the speech, they’re unlikely to be “tweeting” it now. There’s a conspicuously smaller spike following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but we suppose that doesn’t fit into “tweet” size as neatly as a State of the Union speech. A far bigger spike followed the release of a wiretapped audio recording of a professional basketball team owner’s racist rant to his young mixed-race mistress, and given that he was an already disliked old man and the mistress was young and kind of hot there’s an understandable interest in such eavesdropping, but we had also forgotten about that matter. Another biggie was the Supreme’s Court Hobby Lobby decision more or less upholding religious freedom over Obamacare, a matter we followed closely, but we recall that many of the “tweets” were lamenting that some mean old church-goers weren’t being forced to pay for abortifacients.
Then “MH 17” pops up, and we had to go to a search engine to find out that meant the Malaysian airliner which went mysteriously missing back when the weather was better, which was an intriguing puzzler but never came to any satisfactory conclusion and was suddenly cancelled like one of those endlessly plot-twisting network series. The shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, produced the highest total of “tweets” all year, most of them decrying such outrageous abuses. Some pro football player beating up his girlfriend provided another spike, then an even surge came after the mid-term elections installed Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress for reasons having little to do with anything people were “tweeting” about. After some “tweeting” about the Ebola Virus, which we haven’t acquired yet and had largely forgotten about, the biggest spike came when a grand jury declined to indict that Ferguson police officer, apparently because of the overwhelming physical evidence and eyewitness testimony that he had acted in self-defense, and then there was “tweeting” about Sony’s computer getting hacked and it’s widely-planned comedy release being blackmailed.
Much of “tweeting” public is admirably apolitical, and prefers to express pithy opinions about personal matters, so we were further interested to see what topics had produced the most “tweets” from liberal and conservative “activists.” We’re not sure how these people were identified, but it’s a plausible comparison. Apparently conservatives were most concerned with guns, Iraq, Obamacare, Benghazi, Israel, the Ferguson matter and another black man’s fatal encounter with police, then immigration and the mid-terms. This seems to comport with our conversations with conservatives, although the order would be re-arranged. We’re told that liberals were most concerned with the Ferguson matter, the mid-terms, Obamacare, Iraq, guns, the Koch Brothers, Israel, Russia and Ukraine, then marijuana. Our encounters with liberals suggest they have little interest in foreign countries so long as American corporations are not profiting there, but the rest of it, especially about the Koch Brothers and marijuana, sounds about right.
International crises and cops and robbers and the resulting racial contretemps and the occasional scandal from the sports world will no doubt keep Twitter twittering through the next year, along with the Koch Brothers and marijuana and State of the Union addresses and all the other perennial topics, but we’ll try to form our own judgments of what’s important. We can’t do any worse than the general public or those big-time editors and producers.
— Bud Norman