There are conflicting viewpoints on the role of social media in political advocacy: dissenters believe that social media promotes “slacktivism,” and that those who claim to be engaged are actually less informed, merely voicing unfounded opinions because they have a forum on which to do it. Others argue that social media opens the public up to more information, promotes democracy, and encourages political action among users who are already socially and politically engaged.
Whatever your viewpoint, one thing is sure: from Capitol Hill to the White House, elected officials are turning to social media as a way to cut costs, increase access, promote their platforms, or just meet the public where they’re already playing to solicit political donations. President Obama’s Twitter town hall last week — the first, but surely not last of its kind — saw a number of lobbyists getting in on the conversation. From the Chamber of Commerce to health groups, a large number of organizations used the #AskObama hashtag to make a point, ask online blackjack that uses checks questions, and generally interact. And whether the questions were directly addressed by the president or not, the messages were seen by his staff and others using the hashtag, making this communication vehicle more effective than simply sending a letter.
Roll Call‘s Kate Ackerly reports, “Obama mostly took questions from individuals, not the lobbying groups, but he did have a message for well-heeled interests. ‘The debt ceiling is not something that should be used as a gun against the heads of the American people to extract tax breaks for corporate jet owners or oil and gas companies that are making billions of dollars,’ he said.”
Whether it’s the president’s Twitter town hall, a Member’s being urged to cosponsor a bill thanks to redundant Facebook posts, the Obama Administration’s “white board” issue videos, Congress’ use of Skype and other video messaging services to allow virtual constituent meetings, social media is changing the way legislators legislate. Be a part of the (digital) conversation or be deemed irrelevant.