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.