A Social Media Hermit Gains Some Perspective

I don’t enjoy tweeting. As we headed into the Thanksgiving break a few weeks back, I had decided that after this class ends I would retreat back into my social media exile, letting my Twitter go the way of my Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Over the break, however, I came to a kind of realization.

My mom has joined the inspiring surge of newcomers running for a state office in 2018. This past Saturday she launched her campaign for Maine House District 30 at a local meetinghouse in our town of Cape Elizabeth. To announce this event, over Thanksgiving break she created a Facebook page for the launch.

The launch was, in my eyes, a great success. The night before, my mom was incredibly nervous, mostly because she was worried that no one would come. But the next day, after a morning spent running around furiously getting everything ready, which mainly entailed picking up the essential donuts and coffee, when my brother and I finally arrived at the hall, it was full of people. A lot we knew, but a good portion of people we didn’t.

It was funny—one of the main points that the opening colleague (and friend) of my mom’s made, was about the network effect of running for office. And this was the common theme for many of the other remarks as well: local campaigns are built by friends, telling their friends, who tell their friends, about a candidate. There are currently 20 candidates running for the Maine gubernatorial seat in 2018, and one of the attendees at the launch party made this comment to me: “I keep asking my friends who they will be supporting, so I can support them too.” This further drove home the point.

And you know what exponentially increases the network effect? Social media and a digital presence. When people refer to hearing about an event through a friend, they don’t just mean by word of mouth. I know in class we have discussed the intersection of social media, government agencies, and democratic freedoms, and particularly about how far the first amendment covers us in the digital world. But after having attended this event, which was made such a success through my mom’s ability to spread the word via Facebook, I truly believe that social media is, and will play, an important role in all democratic endeavors moving forward.

Take, for instance, the example of Randy Bryce, a Wisconsin ironworker. He is running for Wisconsin Congressional District 1. Who currently occupies that seat? Paul Ryan. On June 18th, Bryce’s campaign released an ad on YouTube that went viral. Since than he has been launched into the public spotlight, garnering appearances on CNN, MSNBC, and profiles in GQ and People. He has raised over $1 million since entering the race in June. A combination of Bryce’s virality, as well as the slump in approval rating that House Speaker Paul Ryan has suffered from a failure to successfully pass major pieces of legislation (like multiple Affordable Care Act replacements), has made the liberal nonprofit Swing Left add the Wisconsin Congressional District 1 as a viable district democrats could win in 2018. A seat that Representative Ryan has occupied since 1999. (An aside, Bryce also has a great handle on Twitter: @IronStache)

Another state-level campaign ad that went viral was one for Dana Nessel, who is running for Michigan Attorney General. Since the ad was dropped last Monday, Nessel’s announcement has received coverage on CNN Politics, the Washington Post, and HuffPost, among others.

Think of the magnitude of this statement: I, a Massachusetts resident, know of two candidates running for state elections in both Wisconsin and Michigan. The ability of these platforms to get out information on local elections is staggering. This coverage is incredibly powerful: it leads to increased donations for candidates, and name recognition on a national scale.

Although social media’s influence on political campaigns has also shown its incredibly ugly side, I would argue that this tool is a powerful equalizer for local aspiring politicians. Relying completely on intuition for this point, I believe that platforms like Facebook and Twitter can help level the incredibly high barriers to entry for political candidates (like access to wealth, economic status of the candidate, social/educational pedigree, etc.).

So as I reflect back on my experiences over the past semester, I have an appreciation for the platforms we have learned so much about. I don’t think I will ever be a regular tweeter/commenter/poster, but I think it is important to recognize the power it gives individual voices in our society, and how it can, perhaps, make our democracy a little more democratic.

9 comments

  1. Great concluding post! Network effects are truly greater than we can imagine and this past semester was a great example of how much we were able to learn from each other just by following a Twitter feed connected through #IS6621. I also agree that social media has certainly removed the barriers to entry in the political world especially since people who aren’t tech savvy can still have a campaign page created for them and managed by someone to create a similar level of connection. Best of luck to your mom in her campaign!

  2. Just as Amazon’s marketplace platform allows for whichever seller the people love most to win, often including small-scale retailers, social media allows or at least encourages a more open opportunity for newcomers to succeed. I really liked your approach of ending on a positive note, elaborating on the potential of a more democratic society through the power of social media. It is amazing that the influence of local campaigns can spread much farther than ever before. It will be interesting to analyze the impact on votes, in terms of aspiring new politicians.

  3. Really cool perspective here. I think its great that you took your experience in the class and your experience with your mother’s political aspirations and reconciled them together. Your point about the barriers to entry in politics is one that I understand completely, and platforms like Facebook which are easy and free (or low-cost) to use make it easier for people like your mother to participate in government. Best wishes for your mother in the elections!

  4. With so much negative press/news around social media and politics (read: Russia), it’s nice to hear your take on how it’s a positive force. Cool about your mom! Re: network effects, how do we bridge the bipartisan divide on (and off) social media in order to create constructive dialogues that hopefully lead to being more informed citizens? In other words, how can we expand and connect these networks across more diverse opinions/views?

  5. I love this perspective! And good for your mom. It takes a lot of engaged people who are committed to making change to actually make it. I appreciate the positivity you’re bringing to the political space right now – and it’s true, I feel plugged in in ways that I couldn’t have been even a year or two ago. This Iron Stache character is getting national attention – and maybe that’s even helping him be a strong competitor in a race that likely would not have been contested in the past. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

  6. This was great insight into another side of the political world that not everybody gets to see. I loved your perspective; it was very thought-provoking! Your blog post offered a unique view on social media in today’s digital climate, which was both refreshing and informative about network effects and their impact today. Well done!

  7. I do agree that I don’t like doing social media for the sake of it. I do, however, think it’s very effective with a purpose.

  8. Such a unique insight! I definitely agree in the last year or so we have seen social media play a huge role in politics– both positively and negatively. I liked that you talked about the network effects and how this becomes greater through social media platforms. Another point that really struck me was when you said that “hearing” about an event can also mean that you “heard” about it through a friends social media platform. There are so many times now when I “hear” something through social media. Now, I agree that not all of this is productive, but a lot of times this can be relevant information. It’ll be interesting to see how social media continues to impact political issues in the future.

  9. Really enjoyed this post! I think it’s very easy to get consumed in the mindset that social media has only had negative effects in the way our government works, but you’re completely right in your analysis. It’s not only possible but has proven to be true that candidates who otherwise would not have had a powerful platform are able to use social media to their advantage. Just a decade or two ago, we would have never heard of a grassroots candidate in a state very far away from us. While social media can often take the role as a bad actor in the spread of misinformation and polarizing, incorrect propaganda, it certainly does also have an equalizing effect like you mentioned.

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