Elections 2012: Fact Checking, Tweeting, and Wearing Indian Lenses During Thursday’s Debate

Mark Trahant
10/10/12

A lot of the polling I’ve been reporting for Indian Country Today Media Network is about who’s winning the election. This is gossip of the first order. It’s human. We want to know who will win. (Even if, ultimately, we’re wrong.)

But there is a lot of information in polls that goes much deeper than the horse race of politics.

For example: Pew Research last month reported how digital media is changing the consumption of news “with many more people now getting news on cell phones, tablets or other mobile platforms. And perhaps the most dramatic change in the news environment has been the rise of social networking sites. The percentage of Americans saying they saw news or news headlines on a social networking site yesterday has doubled – from 9 percent to 19 percent – since 2010. Among adults younger than age 30, as many saw news on a social networking site the previous day (33 percent) as saw any television news (34 percent), with just 13 percent having read a newspaper either in print or digital form.”Digital News Surpasses Newspapers, Radio

Indian country is no different. Facebook has already affected native communities in extraordinary ways, ranging from overruling tribal leaders on a water settlement to individual member demands for per capita payments.

Social media links people quickly and across time zones. Folks from Anchorage, Alaska are as engaged as people in Washington, D.C.; both can be instant commentators, policy wonks, and offer solutions. As it happens. I find this online engagement exciting (even though it also ended my old career as a print journalist).

The biggest audience, I suspect, for Indian country is on Facebook. (And that is true nationally as well.)

Pew puts it this way: “While news gathering is very common among Twitter users, the overall reach is limited because the audience remains relatively small. About one-in-ten Americans (13 percent) ever use Twitter or read Twitter messages. By comparison, more than half (54 percent) ever use other social networking sites, such as Facebook, Google Plus or LinkedIn.”

Last week during the Denver Presidential Debate, Indian Country Today Media Network experimented with social media by writing and posting live on Facebook, Twitter and Storyfy.

The participation was interesting – and worth pursuing again. Facebook was quite active until the debate started, while Twitter picked up just before the debate began and the conversations continued throughout, side by side with what the candidates were saying.

So this is the plan for Thursday night’s Vice Presidential debate. There will be a question or a post for discussion on ICTMN’s Facebook page. Then, I’ll live tweet, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern. The debate starts an hour later.

My tweeting goal is to balance several ideas. First, I want to peer through the lens that is Indian country. When a candidate talks about Medicaid, I’ll post about how that impacts the Indian health system. I’ll look for history and context. I’ll also act as a fact checker on the material I know.

I will also be looking to see what readers of Indian Country Today Media Network are saying. What’s interesting to you? Are the two candidates talking about issues that matter?

So how do you join in? This is easy.

If you are not a member of Twitter, just set up a web page with the address, www.twitter.com/indiancountry for a basic feed. Check there for updates.

If you are a member, or want to join, just make sure to follow @indiancountry or look for the hashtag (a way of sorting tweets) #ICTMNDebate.

I know this is unnerving to many readers. It’s a chaotic stream of information. And for many readers it’s simple to set the dial and watch the debate without interruption. But if you think about it, that’s not how most of us watch anyway. When a family is gathered to watch a sports event – or a debate – there is a constant exchange of ideas, shouting of approval or disapproval, and a commotion.

Social media expands from one living room to many.

A few years ago I noticed how young people were “watching” television. They would sit in the living room, the TV blaring, with their laptops open. They were paying some attention, but were also chatting with friends. It’s a different world than mine. But for a debate that’s exactly the right way to go. Pull up a chair, turn on the TV, and fire up the laptop. Then engage real time in the entire online experience.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: marktrahant@thecedarsgroup.org.

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