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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Sunday spin: Inslee enters Twitter universe

OLYMPIA – It is impossible these days to criticize any experiment to merge politics with social media without sounding like a 21st Century Luddite, or at least some cranky octogenarian telling teenagers to turn down their music and get off the lawn.

Social media, after all, fueled the fire of the Arab spring and Tahrir Square. It eats dead-tree journalism for breakfast then orders a pumpkin spice latte to clear that “past its expiration date” taste out of the mouth.

So it is with some trepidation that I say the governor’s recent Twitter Town Hall was a bit underwhelming, at least from the standpoint of connecting state government and large segments of the population that don’t have regular access to the machinery of governing. . .

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. . . For those not glued to their Twitter feeds Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee held a one-hour question-and-answer session in the realm of 140-character missive, that part of the Internet in which the thing old people learned to call the “pound sign” when everyone went to Touchtone phones is the all-important “hashtag”.

 The topic of discussion was Results Washington – #ResultsWA to Twitter users – which is Inslee’s new initiative to make state government more effective and responsive. It is so new that some goals are still a tad fill-in the blank, such as the goal for the state’s education to “Increase the percentage of schools rated exemplary or very good on the Washington School Achievement Index from X to X by 20XX (TBD)”.

The governor’s office, other state agencies and the news media touted the Twitter Town Hall when it was announced. How could we resist tweeting about it?

But settling in to watch the feed Thursday morning revealed many of those tweeting were from various state offices. Some lobbyists who regularly make their case to legislative committees or agencies chimed in, and some regular critics of current systems, or Inslee, fired off a few rounds.

Compared to a traditional town hall – like the one Inslee’s predecessor held at University High School in 2007 which drew 600 people who mostly did not deal with state government on a regular basis – it was somewhat less compelling.

Also of note: Inslee was not in the governor’s office, where about a dozen folks from various agencies were gathered to answer queries that came in. He was on the road to a meeting, following the action – such as it was – on his cell phone. Apparently the concept of a governor holding a town hall actually being in the hall is passé in this age of interconnectivity.

The biggest shortcoming of the whole affair is a corollary to something Marshall McLuhan warned us in 1964. The medium is the message but in this medium the message can only be 140 characters long . . . which is the number of characters from the beginning of this paragraph to the but.

You might ask an intelligent question or make a good suggestion in that space. But if state government could be explained in 140-character bites, it probably would have been fixed long ago.

For longer responses, participants must wait until this week, and go to the Results Washington website – which is so terribly 2000s, and not the sort of instant response and reaction that gratifies the Twitter universe.

The governor’s office deemed the whole thing a success, which means we can probably expect more such events. In the meantime, one can only hope they will turn down their music, and stay off the lawn.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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