With more than 269.6 million users and climbing, Twitter has become one of the largest social media platforms in the world, allowing everyone from CEOs to teens to instantly share their thoughts. While sending out a tweet may have a low impact on the everyday citizen, high-profile government officials can share news from the Federal Government in a single tweet, reaching thousands of followers.
Twitter vs. U.S. Press Secretary
Media outlets speculate that Sarah Huckabee Sanders resigned after she received intense criticism for defending some of the president’s statements and admitting that she lied about FBI workers wanting former FBI director, James B. Comey, fired. In the 12 days between Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ resignation and Stephanie Grisham’s first day, a heated debate ensued about the usefulness of the press secretary role.
There were two main sides to this argument:
1. Government Officials Can Speak for Themselves. Bill Press, an opinion contributor for The Hill, acknowledged that press briefings are important and allow the administration to communicate their message without a filter. However, Press emphasizes that when there are little-to-no White House press briefings scheduled and the president tweets the administration’s messages, there is no need to have a press secretary who simply communicates the same message in a briefing the next day. Joe Virgillito of BTR today agrees with some supporters that the main role of a press secretary is to control information, which is necessary. On the other hand, he articulates that the president’s Twitter privileges remove the necessity of press briefings altogether.
2. Social Platforms Don’t Replace the Podium. Joe Lockhart, former press secretary for Bill Clinton’s administration from 1998-2000, holds the opinion that because social media allows the president to decide what he tweets, it is the job of the press secretary to inform the public of the reality of the situation and what to pay attention to. In agreement with Lockhart, the Public Relations Society of America asked the White House to hire a new press secretary “who will hold more briefings and build a positive relationship with the press,” according to a press release published on June 19.
Whether or not people believe hiring a new press secretary was necessary, both sides acknowledge that government leaders’ use of social media has a major impact on the role.
How Twitter is Changing Government Communications
Even though the press secretary’s role may center on informing the media of White House issues, the resultant stories that journalists craft impact public perception, the stock market and decision-making across the world. Twitter has only sped up the process, as news from the White House affects businesses and the stock market, bypassing traditional news coverage altogether.
On December 6th, 2016, President Trump tweeted: “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”
Immediately, Boeing’s stock dropped one percent in value as people started to fear that the company’s reputation with the then-new administration was on the rocks. This is one of the many examples of a social post from POTUS that, upon instant transmission, sparked conversation and created a ripple effect in the business world.
It’s also important to recognize that because government officials have such widespread Twitter followings, they become hackers’ top targets. In February, someone hacked Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s Twitter and sent a bomb threat to the Tampa International Airport. While the Tampa Police Department confirmed that the threat was fabricated, the fact remains that hackers chose Buckhorn for a reason—he had more than 52,000 followers at the time.
So, while some of us may hear the title “press secretary” and think of the West Wing’s C.J. Cregg holding her ever-so-put-together daily press briefings, Twitter has permanently shifted how the government and its officials communicate with the public—making the communication line between the public and private sectors more direct than ever.
Read more insights from Merritt Group’s Government Practice Team by clicking here.