On Monday, the senator announced his candidacy for US president on Twitter, a platform used by many politicians to announce their election bids.
But this time, the hostility from Twitter was unprecedented. Diana Owen, associate professor of communication, culture, and technology at Georgetown University, describes it as "not like anything we’ve seen before."
Of the viral, and largely comic, response currently taking place under the hashtag #TedCruzCampaignSlogans, she says, "This is going beyond what we’ve seen happen when a candidate announces on social media."
To Professor Owen, who teaches a graduate seminar on social media in elections, a campaign must have staffers fluent in the language of social media long before officially launching. Her students are currently working on a book on the issue, and she says that Cruz's campaign likely just earned itself a cautionary chapter.
“Social media is being used to polarize elections. The playbook is being made up right now. The media is so dynamic it’s just not prudent to announce on Twitter unless you know how to manage the double-edged sword you’re using,” she says.
She says she suspects that the tag may have been “hijacked by a aggressive DNC social media operative” whom she herself trained, saying, “This is what one of my former students, now high up in the DNC social media’s team, does every day.”
“Of course it’s difficult, if not impossible, to prove that a social media reaction isn’t grassroots because of the nature of the beast and its inherent anonymity,” Owen says.
Owen suggests that a good parallel for understanding the dynamics of what just happened to the not-so-Twitter-savvy campaign is to imagine being a non-French speaker in Paris, phrase book in hand, and blurting a poorly accented “Bonjour!” to a crowd of snarky people.
The resulting flow of French response would leave the phrasebook holder a bit embarrassed and bewildered.
“He [Senator Cruz] made the mistake of perhaps not knowing what he was getting into on Twitter. He’s up against aggressive campaigners in the DNC who really know how to use social media,” says Owen. “While I teach my students how to use social media responsibly, once they transition into the campaign realm they turn all that on its head.”
Asked what countermeasures she would advise those in Cruz’s circumstances to do in order to make a political and social media recovery, Owen says, “If Senator Cruz wants to come back from this, unfortunately, the only thing to do at this point is to not just let it go. What’s out there now is simply too destructive to let stand without response. He will have to engage in a media war of sorts.”
“Senator Cruz also seems to be one of those candidates who really lend themselves to being lampooned,” she adds.
While the effective and aggressive use of social media was successful during President Barack Obama’s campaign against Mitt Romney, Owen points out that no candidate should enter into a social media without someone very savvy on their campaign team.
Owen recalls a student of hers who worked for the Mitt Romney campaign.
"Although, even when the Republicans have a great social media person on staff, they don’t always listen to their suggestions," she says. "My student wanted to get aggressive on Twitter, and the RNC leaders just wanted another radio spot.”