Mayoral Candidates in Decatur, Ill., Consider Using Twitter to Share Political Messages

Both Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe and challenger John Phillips said they are relatively new to using Twitter, which has increasingly become a platform for sharing political messages.

by Chris Lusvardi, Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill. / January 26, 2017

(TNS) — DECATUR — The success of President Donald Trump in communicating his thoughts using Twitter has the candidates for Decatur mayor considering how best to use social media to share information.

Both Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe and challenger John Phillips said they are relatively new to using Twitter, which has increasingly become a platform for sharing political messages. They are running in the April 4 election, one of the few recent times the mayoral race has been contested.

“It's a process,” said Moore Wolfe, who uses the @MayorMooreWolfe Twitter handle, about efforts to communicate with residents on social media. “It has become a whole new world to reach as many people as possible.”

Phillips, a local businessman who uses the @JPforDecatur handle, said Twitter can be a way to informally communicate, particularly with the news media. If elected, Phillips said he would continue to use Twitter more.

Information from the city is already communicated through the @AccessDecatur Twitter account.

Candidates tend to be comfortable and experienced in using Facebook, with most of the local candidates setting up campaign Facebook pages.

“I don't know the future,” Phillips said. “I'd continue to use Twitter as a communication tool for agendas and official information.”

In addition to candidates using Twitter to communicate their messages, others are trying to express their views by following in Trump's example, said Scott Lambert, a journalism professor at Millikin University. Trump's appeal resonated in Macon County, where he received 55 percent of the vote in the November election, compared to Hillary Clinton's 38 percent.

“Trump has used the thing and brought so much media attention to it,” Lambert said. “It worked on the biggest stage in the world.”

The approach is leading others to consider how they can effectively attract attention, Lambert said.

“It's not just here, but it's happening worldwide,” Lambert said. “I'm not sure how much it's happening in smaller towns, but for those who are, they're taking it right off the Trump playbook.”

Part of the concern comes in assessing the reliability of information, Lambert said. Twitter users aren't required to put their real names on accounts, yet Lambert said their messages can spread to be seen by a wide variety of people and in turn, influence public opinion.

One such account is identified as “Concerned Citizen” with the handle @DecaturWoke. The account's operator said in a message that he or she is simply a concerned citizen of Macon County and declined to provide any other identifying information.

The messages being shared using the @DecaturWoke account are intended to influence public thinking about the mayoral candidates, sometimes in a provocative manner but with a common theme using the #MakeDecaturCelebrateAgain hashtag.

“As evidenced by the recent Federal and State elections, using Hyperbole, Humor and Memetics, once exclusive to Mainstream News, became popular and effective through Social Media,” the account's operator wrote in a message to the Herald & Review. “I'm applying similar tactics to draw further attention to local politics as an attempt to gain more participation and interest in the upcoming local elections.”

The Tweets from @DecaturWoke include images of Phillips' face superimposed on various celebrities or in flattering situations. Other messages have been critical of Moore Wolfe, such as editing an image of her city business card and inserting"Tax raiser" as the job title.

Phillips said it isn't his intent to spread his views in such a way, although his campaign website is linked in the @DecaturWoke account profile. Phillips said he has nothing to do with that account.

“I can't restrict freedom,” Phillips said. “I don't want any part of it. I see no purpose for that.”

Moore Wolfe said by being in her public position, she is fair game for criticism. While Moore Wolfe said she welcomes feedback, sometimes she has found it best not to respond to comments in such a public forum and engage in a debate using social media.

Moore Wolfe said using social media is important because so few residents attend meetings and are actively engaged in the city's decision making process. Twitter is just one of the platforms for communication, she said.

“It's a good way to reach people,” Moore Wolfe said. “Some people will comment at meetings, but that's not the majority.”

Moore Wolfe is looking to have fun when using Twitter and use it as a way to share what she's doing and the places she's going as mayor.

©2017 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.