Maybe Political Journalists Shouldn’t Be Spending So Much Time Listening to Twitter People

If you are trying to understand American politics, Twitter isn’t the best place to do that, since it is skewed to the extremes of both sides. You don’t have to take my word for that and or review things yourself, plenty of news stories have touched on that, including this one from FiveThirtyEight. That doesn’t stop journalist from spending a lot of time focused on what is happening on Twitter, to the detriment of political coverage. There are other reasons beyond the skewing that make that a bad idea.

There is a guy I see being mentioned on Twitter, usually in unflattering ways, named Will Stancil. I don’t really understand who he is or why he would have over 18,000 people following him, but he does. At least one journalist not only follows what he is writing, but also interviewed him in December. That journalist being Perry Bacon Jr., who is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight and had previous stints as senior political reporter for NBC News, as a White House reporter and national political reporter at The Washington Post, and as a national political writer at TIME. Here was how Perry Bacon Jr introduced Will Stancil:

I came to understand the Democratic Party as divided between older and younger Democrats and more cautious officials versus less cautious officials in part because Will Stancil kept  saying this in his tweets. Will, who is 35, isn’t a political reporter and doesn’t live in Washington. He works at a think tank in Minneapolis, mainly researching policy on metropolitan issues. But with the rise of Trump, he became worried that policy research wouldn’t matter much if U.S. democracy and government overall was severely weakened. So he declared himself a “Proud Member of Do-Something Twitter” and spent much of the last four years imploring the Democratic Party to take a stronger stand against Trump. He used the only tool he had to potentially reach political elites: his Twitter account. I don’t know how I first found Will’s tweets, but when I did, he had a data-based take on why impeachment wouldn’t hurt Democrats. That view mirrored my instincts. Having a second person with this perspective, even if it was a man in Minnesota I had never (and still haven’t) met in person, made me feel less crazy for holding this interpretation , and I ultimately wrote a piece about it. I spoke to Will recently about his broader views on subjects he frequently talks about, like the Democratic Party, what pundits are getting wrong about urbanization and politics, school integration in Louisville and around the country, and more.

To give another side of him, here he was a week ago claiming, based on nothing whatsoever, that Democratic officials are coordinating people on Twitter to target a journalist:

I want to know which of them are in dialogue with actual Dem officials and electeds, and how much they’re coordinating the hits on, e.g., Seung Min Kim. Clearly Neera herself is in contact, and I’ve got some guesses about some other folks

It seems totally unhinged. What seemed to be part of what he believed was evidence of that, related to someone disputing claims being made about then OMB nominee Neera Tanden for the Biden administration:

how does this random guy have such detailed inside information about the thinkprogress shutdown, I ask in fake mystification

In response to that, the person being referred to responded that what he said was based having read two articles, which should have already obvious since in the original tweets Will Stancil was referring to, he said “[i]t was widely reported”, which is true. Beyond the conspiracy theory element there, the guy is supposed to be data focused, but in this case seems to have not bothered to do any research before jumping to a really wrong conclusion.

Again, this is someone that a fairly prominent political journalist pays attention to.

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