The Language of Threat in our Political Discourse

The Language of Threat in our Political Discourse

G. R. Boynton (University of Iowa, USA) and Glenn W. Richardson, Jr. (Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6066-3.ch013
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This chapter is a report about negotiating the boundaries of appropriate political discourse via Twitter. The instance looked at in depth is the communication about the shooting of Representative Giffords in 2011. The first month over 400,000 messages referred to Giffords and substantially more referred to the controversy about the campaign rhetoric of targets and reloading. The authors tracked the communication in 6 ongoing collections of streams of messages and 2 that resulted from the shooting and controversy. One stream was about how “terrorist” was used in characterizing the shooter. The major controversy was about the use of targeting or gun references in campaign rhetoric. Palin released a video using the phrase “blood libel” leading to opposing interpretations of the appropriate use of the term. The authors look in less depth at the controversy in early 2012 about Rush Limbaugh's characterization of a student who testified to a committee of the House of Representatives. That controversy reinforced points found in the communication about the Giffords shooting. It also reminds us that the boundaries of appropriate political rhetoric are continuously negotiated in a free speech society and that there is now a new domain for the negotiation in the new media.
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The First Hours

It was a few messages the first thirty minutes, and then it burst into an explosion of concern for the member of Congress and for what this act meant for our political system. Our collection of Twitter messages did not begin immediately, but these five streams of messages were being collected and they contain 76,000 messages between 11:00 and 3:45 MST on January 8. Shown in Table 1 are the messages that were collected by searching Twitter for messages containing #p2 or #teaparty or Palin or terrorism or 9/11 at five minute intervals.

Table 1.
Collection of Twitter messages containing #p2 or #teaparty or Palin or terrorism or 9/11 at five minute intervals
   #p2   11:07   MT @JonJustice: CD8 Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has been shot at the Safeway Area closed, no word on condition. #tcot #p2
   #teaparty   11:17   Democratic CongressWoman Giffords shot in AZ
   Palin   11:25   Gabrielle Giffords was on Palin's infamous “target” map:
   terrorism   11:35   Horrified that Gabrielle Giffords was shot. But not surprised something like this has happened
   9/11   12:29   RIP Rep. Giffords. I haven't been this frightened by a news story since 9/11. We need to learn from this.

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