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Twitter Bullying: Arguing On Political Opinion Now Counts?

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When I get an article with the headline, "White House uses Twitter to bully critics," it sort of primes me to expect to see some examples of some hardcore online bullying. But in the case of White House Director of Progressive Media and Online Response Jesse Lee, as reported by The Daily Caller, this is about as good as it gets:

Of the 267 tweets written by Lee in just over a month, a stunning 40 of them have been directed at Kevin Eder, a prolific Twitter user with more than 83,000 tweets to his credit. That means 15 percent of Lee’s tweets — from an official White House account no less — have been with Eder.

One such example happened last week in a dispute over the budget.

Eder posted this tweet: “Hmm…it can’t be true that @SenateDems haven’t passed a budget in 790 days and the only plan Obama has is a speech. Right, @jesseclee44?”

To which Lee responded: “@keder @SenateDems Plan is keep negotiating w/ Rs & Ds, not default & trash economy, not voucherize Medicare to fund more tax cuts for rich.”

OH, SNAP! See how Lee gave a cogent and respectable response to someone on Twitter who specifically asked for one? That is just so over the line! Is this guy, Kevin Eder, seeing a counselor about all of this bullying? Well, apparently not:

“I like going back and forth with him,” Eder said of Lee. “But if you engage your fiercest critics on new media, you’re doing two things: On the one hand, you’re showing that you take their opinion seriously. That’s good for the non-influencer public to watch what’s happening. But on the other hand, the White House is legitimizing me. And quite literally, I’m a nobody.”

No need to cut any "It Gets Better" videos over this, I suppose.

I wish I could tell you how many Twitter followers you need to have, or how many tweets you need to send, before it's okay to have a back and forth with someone out there in the world that's seeking it and not objecting to the conversation. I don't know at what level it becomes appropriate-as-deemed-by-society. I suspect nobody has the answers to these questions, because I suspect nobody really cares about this nonsense.

The main thrust of the piece, to be honest, doesn't seem to be about "bullying" at all. Which is good, because it's bereft of examples, unless you think the White House using Twitter to make their case to be "bullying." What Lee is doing is not new -- former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Weekly Standard writer Stephen Hayes famously went tweet-to-tweet with one another back in May of 2010, and it didn't exactly end in tears or recriminations. "I have enjoyed our tweets – shows that a good debate doesn't have to be a nasty debate," tweeted Hayes.

Lee is also not specifically tasked with spending all day long on Twitter, arguing with people. If he was, I'd hope that he could manage to produce more than "267 tweets in just over a month." (Though if any White House now or in the future wants to hire someone to write nine sentences a day on policy pushback, I would be willing to do that job.)

I suppose that the reason this story exists is because we're largely in undiscovered country where social media and politics are concerned. Tony Fratto sagely points out that taking to social media to mount constant debates, "you run the risk of tripping yourself up." (This won't happen if you follow my eight-point process of optimizing your Twitter experience.)

But beyond that, you'd really have to be born yesterday to find some of the Caller's concerns alarming. That the sort of work Lee does "used to be handled almost exclusively by the Democratic National Committee," is not something that strikes me as unusual, considering the words "almost exclusively" are there to provide for the fact that White House officials -- like Lee -- have, for as long as I can remember, gone on the teevee and written op-eds in newspapers. And someone really needs to sit down and explain to me the harm done by retweeting a link from Mother Jones's Kate Sheppard. (Is there any doubt that a conservative White House twitterer wouldn't highlight articles in The Weekly Standard or, say...The Daily Caller?)

The article does go on to cite three "high-profile" incidents that featured the White House mistreating reporters. Two of them strike me as risible -- the White House erring out of what can only be described as pettiness. The third -- Jay Carney complaining about Mark Halperin -- is something that I personally think the White House just should have ignored, because why make it look like the President is sweating Mark Halperin of all people? But there's three features to each incident that should go noted: none involved anything "online," none involved random ordinary citizens like the aforementioned Eder, and none, to the best of my knowledge, involved Lee. (So, maybe write those incidents with actual reporters up as a separate, better story? This is just an idea I had.)

"The Heritage Foundation was on the receiving end last week from both Lee and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, both of whom maintain official White House accounts on Twitter that are subject to archival under the Presidential Records Act," writes the article's author, Rob Bluey, who is also the director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation. So, basically, this whole article is just a complicated way of asking Lee to please stop criticizing the Heritage Foundation on Twitter. What a world!

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to tv@huffingtonpost.com -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]

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