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Twitter Becoming the High School of Political Discourse

by Jane Susskind, published

With the extent of our government dysfunction reflected in abysmal congressional approval ratings, it's safe to say that Americans are frustrated. Thirty-three percent of Americans blame partisanship for the current government shutdown and are turning to the Internet to let everyone know just how frustrated they are.

Websites are now encouraging people to drunk dial Congress (with suggested talking points including "I can't watch the panda" ), with some sites suggesting we tell Congress exactly how we feel, without holding back.


  What better place to take out our frustrations than the Internet, right? We can create usernames that mask our true identity, yell and scream at each other, and never have to actually engage with people who disagree with us.

One of the most recent examples is on Twitter, where competing hashtags like #GOPshutdown and #HarryReidsShutdown dominate the name-calling marathon online.

In 140 characters or less, users contribute to the partisan bickering, with no real consequences. Hiding behind a username, we complain about ineffective government from afar, without having to substantiate our claims.

Instead of using Twitter in a productive way to discuss potential solutions to the hyper-partisanship that plagues Washington, or the flawed electoral process that ensures these politicians remain in power, we tweet stuff like this:

After the 2012 election, I explained 10 powerful ways in which Twitter was introduced and adopted into the political realm. One of which was it's ability to empower us. Twitter grants us the unique opportunity to speak directly to our leaders. It allows us to connect with people otherwise unreachable; local community leaders, organizations, even those who represent us in Washington.

What we see going on today, however, is the slow deterioration of our civil discourse seeping into the Twittersphere, turning Twitter into what Matt K. Lewis refers to as a dark place.

and to see if others will laugh and join in. Aside from trolling for victims after some tragedy, Twitter isn't used for reporting much anymore. But it is used for snark," he adds as a reason why he hates Twitter.

This phenomenon is not unique to Twitter. We've seen the level of discourse drop in all discussions on and offline, and while there will always be people using the Internet unproductively, I truly believe that there is room for substantial debate online.

For those of you interested in using the Internet as a platform to share ideas, as a forum for a meaningful discussion on solutions, and to embody the civil discourse we hope to see in Washington, I invite you to join our community online.

Join us on  and 

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