If politics is war, then Twitter is the neutron bomb. Politicians are engaging in hashtag warfare to stake out positions and target opponents without ever talking to a reporter or entering a TV studio.
You know you have a powerful weapon, says The Washington Post, when the President of the United States incorporates hashtags into his speeches, as he did last week — #dontdoublemyrate — in pressuring the GOP-led House to block an increase in student loan interest rates. After whipping up a student crowd in Chapel Hill that chanted the hashtag, there were almost instantaneously 20,000 tweets with the hashtag.
Within 45 minutes, House Speaker John Boehner responded, using the hashtag, blaming Democrats for the student loan rate increase. Conservative groups seized on the hashtag to rip Obama over gas prices and lingering high unemployment rates, a risk you run in hashtag warfare.
Ann Romney chose Twitter to respond to criticism about her being a stay-at-home mom. Her tweet — "I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work." — reframed the conversation in thousands of retweets. Critics changed the subject.
Twitter-bombing isn't just an American political phenomenon. It played a huge role in the Arab Spring upheavals. Reportedly the new president of Chile instructed his cabinet ministers to tweet to build grassroots support for his new policies.
Facebook has tons more users, but Twitter has become the go-to place to find out the latest news. That is just the kind of battlefront that attracts political operatives. Shots fired on Twitter wind up ricocheting on Facebook and, ultimately, populate searches on Google.