Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tweet Better Using Frames With Winning Words

In this installment from The Winning Words Project, we're going to help you learn how to think about re-framing tweets to avoid using and repeating right wing frames. Using right wing frames and having them re-tweeted potentially hundreds of times, actually conditions us to think using right wing frames instead of our own.

As described in "The Debunking Handbook" by John Cook of the Global Change Institute, University of Queensland and Stephan Lewandowsky with the School of Psychology, University of Western Australia:

To test for [the] backfire effect, people were shown a flyer that debunked common myths about flu vaccines. Afterwards, they were asked to separate the myths from the facts. When asked immediately after reading the flyer, people successfully identified the myths. However, when queried 30 minutes after reading the flyer, some people actually scored worse after reading the flyer. The debunking reinforced the myths.
Hence the backfire effect is real. The driving force is the fact that familiarity increases the chances of accepting information as true. Immediately after reading the flyer, people remembered the details that debunked the myth and successfully identified the myths. As time passed, however, the memory of the details faded and all people remembered was the myth without the “tag” that identified it as false.
Social media is now among the most referenced sources for news and information in the world, quickly overtaking traditional media outlets. Ordinary citizens broke the news of the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound and Whitney Houston's death. This makes each and every one of us who participates in social media, a critical component in information dissemination—nearly as important as any cable news commentator or newspaper editor. We, the people, are finally in a position to shape the message instead of having it spoon-fed to us with what has been long-standing conservative media bias. This makes it extremely important that we get the message right.

So how do we do that? Let's look at some examples, starting with this tweet:

Sample Tweet—Did President Barack Obama Double Our National Debt?

What stands out here?

President Obama Double Our National Debt EXCELLENT.

The juxtaposition of President Obama and doubling our national debt—even if it's in question form—is certainly not the connection we want people to have in their memory, not the least because it isn't true. So how could this tweet have been written using a better frame? Looking at the linked article (which is filled with "don'ts" when it comes to progressive message framing, by the way!), we find this:
"[O]f the $5.1 trillion added to the National Debt from 2009 to 2012, only $1.5 trillion is due [to] legislation signed by President Obama.  Of that $1.5 trillion, only $500 billion in incremental spending carries past 2010. The rest of the debt, or $3.6 trillion, can be directly attributed to legislation passed under previous administrations."
What if this was tweeted instead?

Sample Tweet—Bush legislation led to 71% of the increase in the national debt from 2009-2011.

What stands out in that tweet? Bush legislation National Debt Increase. Much, much better, no? Not a single thing that could be misconstrued, or misremembered, as Obama increasing the national debt!

Let's look at another example.

Sample Tweet—Governor Walker was giving a Defender of Freedom award by the NRA last weekend.

The unintended take-away?

Governor Walker, Defender of Freedom. But is Governor Walker a defender of freedom? Absolutely not! He is near the top of the list of governors with the worst record ever on defending workers' freedom to collectively bargain and women's freedom to have sovereign control over their own bodies. So why not say that instead?

Sample Tweet—Contrary to the NRA award, Governor Walker is a Denier of Freedom (workers, women).

Now take a look at this tweet. What does it actually say?

Sample Tweet—GOP your plan to save medicare is going to cost seniors a fortune.

The very first thing it announces is that the GOP has a plan to save Medicare! Sure, it goes on to say that it will cost "a fortune," but it's still a plan to "save" Medicare according to this tweet. The reality is exactly the opposite. It's really important to say that.

Like this:

Sample Tweet—GOP budget plan will destroy medicare, cost seniors thousands. The Democrats will save medicare.

When you are ready to compose a tweet, or have clicked on an article that pre-fills the tweet for you, consider the following things:
  • What words stand out most prominently, and would those words evoke positive or negative feelings or impressions?
  • Can you rephrase the tweet to say the same thing using Progressive frames instead of right wing frames?
  • Does the pre-set headline tell the story you want it to tell? If not, don't use it. Just because a site suggests that text doesn't mean you have to use it.
  • Are you using "Winning Words" with progressive moral frames? Are you talking about Obama's successes? Are you reminding people how the Patient Protection Act protects their health, their pocketbook and their freedom? Are you firmly establishing the fact that Medicare and Social Security are earned benefits? Are you promoting the economic reality that government spending is an investment in our future (education, infrastructure, research) that actually returns a profit for the country?
If you have a tweet you'd like assistance rephrasing, let us know in the comments section below.


  1. Jill - this is spot on! As always, very impressive way with words.

  2. Just found this, but excellent work. I've been screaming about framing for ages, it's very important. Until we who seek reform and progress learn to frame issues in our everyday lives better, we will continue to have trouble making the world a better place.

  3. Hi Ole! (That's my brother-in-law's name, btw)

    Thanks for the kind feedback. Just wanted to let you know that I put The Winning Words Project on it's own site now, so check out

    Thanks again!


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