Social Media allows ordinary people and grassroots organizations to make an impact in the public sphere, which helps to extend traditional means of communication and make our background activities visible. When highly visible, this activity has tremendous power to energize others and to make politicians aware that people are thinking, talking, meeting, organizing, and acting around issues.
See the bottom of this post for a quick list of ways to get started using your Twitter account for political discourse.
Don’t have a Twitter account yet? Click here to view a step-by-step setup tutorial.
Calling and writing to elected officials is an essential way to begin communications, but that shouldn’t be where it ends. There is power in articulating via a Tweet that you have used these traditional channels because it reminds others to do the same. Tweeting also collects public visual evidence that multiple constituents care about the same issues—and more importantly, makes it harder for politicians to say they have not heard from people about a particular topic.
If you can’t get through to your representatives, you can also Tweet about that point and still make your voice heard. Tweet directly at your representative and they (or someone from their office) will undoubtedly see it. A bonus is that the tweet will also be visible to anyone else following that individual.
Tip for replying:
When replying or Tweeting directly to a user make sure to use a period before their handle if it appears as the first word in the body text so that it is visible to everyone:
.@RepJohnKatko or .@IndivisbleOsw or .@nytimes
If you begin the text with a username but no period in front Twitter will treat it as a reply and only people who follow both you and the person you are tweeting will have the Tweet appear in their news feed.
Contribute to a larger discussion by using hashtags whenever possible. You can help to organize the information people and organizations are sharing and also amplify the discussion around topics and events that you care about. Look at trending topics on the side of your Twitter news feed for ideas, but also keep in mind standards such as #ClimateChange #ScienceMatters #Resist #ACA #AHCA #NoBanNoWall #RefugeesWelcome #Tumpcare, #LoveTrumpsHate, and so forth.
If you attend an event or protest march, make sure to check whether there is an official hashtag, such as #WomensMarch.
Using a common hashtag will help groups and users collect related tweets and this heightens the power of the message. It also helps you to follow a specific topic because you can click on a term such as #ScienceMarch in a tweet—or search for a hashtag at the top of the screen—and see a listing of all the latest Twitter conversations and news that have used that tag. This can be especially useful for fast-paced topics or tracking events as they unfold.
Groups can also leverage Twitter hashtags to create a compact record of curated tweets surrounding an issue or event. This can create manageable, sharable highlights culled from a massive amount of information, such as the examples below that have used an app called Storify to tell a cohesive narrative about the Day of Facts hashtag that had museums, libraries, and other institutions countering the idea of alternative facts:
or a resource guide related to the Women’s March:
There are many ways to create an impact at the local and national level through positive reinforcement of messages and through vocal dissent. Make a visible impact by supporting causes and groups that align with your views and retweeting and commenting on their content. Make sure to add your own voice and tweet at them about experiences that they can use to bolster their own messages. Include them, when appropriate, if you express dissent to a politician. This adds to a sense of a collective voice and helps to amplify the message.
Example of impact:
We the People Oswego Indivisible have tweeted images of people visiting Representative John Katko’s local office and being allowed in only three at a time. The text recounts being told that a larger number of individuals being present at the office constitutes a protest, rather than a meeting. It’s a good message to share widely because it underscores the then still-growing narrative that John Katko was refusing office access to his constituents.
Other people and groups were also tweeting about access issues:
Because of pressure on a number of fronts, the representative eventually held a Facebook town hall meeting. This event was not especially popular, and he has now finally promised to be more publicly available to his constituents. Twitter is a part of the impact, and certainly provides a public record of that promise—this is the power that social media holds as an archive of dialog and stated promises (just look how often the news media consults Trump’s Twitter feed for evidence of his changing stance on issues!).
Federal and State agencies are often on Twitter, so don’t forget to follow and tweet at them about policies and regulations. This is another place to share your thoughts directly with policymakers and often get to the source, rather than just speaking to a representative when it’s time to vote.
Social media also has the power to help reshape the dialog around issues or terms. This can include reclaiming the use of a word or phrase, turning an initiative or hashtag into a counter narrative, or correcting misleading news or information.
We the People Oswego Indivisible posted this corrective tweet in reply to a news article in the Palladium-Times suggesting that an organized group of protestors was disappointed that John Katko was not present at his Oswego office. Sharing the photo also added to the public documentation of groups protesting outside his other offices, thus giving power to the collective voice of his constituents.
Reclaiming the term nasty woman (and the subsequent use of #NastyWomen and #NastyWoman) has led to many tweets about empowerment for women everywhere. Many grassroots campaigns have also pulled on this unifying message, which has effectively turned a derogatory comment into a rallying cry for powerful women.
Creating a counter-narrative around the term alternative facts happened almost immediately on Twitter, and it is still ongoing.
Similarly, the general dialog about the #BoycottBudwiser [sic] hashtag was quickly and rather brilliantly turned around, becoming a conversation largely about tolerance toward immigrants (and yes, a lot of hate-shaming too) as opposed to the initial reaction against a corporation showcasing an immigrant story in an advertisement.
In 2011 the Library of Congress began archiving all of the public Tweets as a significant social record. While they are having trouble dealing with the volume of information and thus are not yet making it publicly accessible (read: searchable), it is still an important future resource. Researchers will find analysis essential to understanding differing political views, the makeup of user bases, the most important issues, the incidence of trolling, the changing patterns of engagement, and countless other topics that this data can reveal.
In the meantime, researchers are already using Twitter data for less robust, but still important, analytics and contributing to the public discourse (and dissent) of this period in history is important.
You can also do some of your own fast analytics to get a quick snapshot of what a Twitter user or group is most frequently talking about. This can be a good way to get an initial grasp on a public figure’s focus.
Go to the website above and type any Twitter user name (@RepJohnKatko, @nytimes, @ACLU, etc.) into the white box at the bottom of the screen. The site will generate an interactive chart showing the most frequently used terms and the corresponding tweets, color coded for easy reference. You can also click bubbles to reveal and sort the individual tweets that use a particular term.
Get started now!
Click here to view a separate post about some suggested users to follow and hashtags to employ to leverage the power of Twitter as an information source.
Use your Twitter feed to network with groups and individuals you support, and also some with whom you may disagree. Start with a few users, such as:
Indivisible OswegoNY @IndivisibleOsw
State of New York @NYGov
U.S. EPA @EPA
Nat’l Endow f/t Arts @NEAarts
Climate Reality @ClimateReality
ACLU National @ACLU
Follow news outlets and reporters:
Oswego County News Now @OswegoCoNewsNow
The New York Times @nytimes
Andrea Mitchell @mitchellreports
CNN Politics @CNNPolitics
Rachel Maddow @maddow
Follow your local and national politicians, then see if you can follow their campaign managers and staff members. This will give you insights into the people around them.
Just a few examples:
Donald Trump @realDonaldTrump
Reince Priebus @Reince
Kellyanne Conway @KellyannePolls
Mike Pence @mike_pence
Paul Ryan @SpeakerRyan
Leader McConnell @SenateMajLdr
Administrator Pruitt @EPAScottPruitt
Then take a look at who they follow. This will tell you what groups and people are having some influence over their ideas and beliefs. Just remember, they will also likely follow some people who have dissenting views, so look at their followers within the context of the things they tweet and say.
Do some searches on hashtags and topics:
See what different people are saying. Click on users to open their profiles and follow more people you find interesting. Retweet and start conversations about any important or relevant content.
Make sure your own profile has some kind of an image and ideally a few words about yourself or your interests. A profile with a generic egg image is often viewed by others as either a lazy or disinterested user or, more maliciously, a likely troll or bot account. Your content will have more impact if it seems genuine right from the crafting of your profile.
Start tweeting at your representatives:
Type a tweet to @RepJohnKatko to express your thoughts on a topic of interest, especially one that is making news today. Try saying something about climate change, education, healthcare, or immigration; ask him to vote no on a particular bill; tweet pictures of a protest, etc.
Tell him (and everyone else) that you called his office today to talk about the #ACA, or that you wrote a letter to him about immigration. Post a picture if you sent a letter so that everyone else can read it too!
Tweet about topics that you care about:
Find a few relevant hashtags and start writing tweets that use them.
Get in the habit of sharing calls to action from your favorite organizations—things like the dates of protests, Wikipedia edit-a-thons, grassroots letter campaigns, and so forth.
Take pictures when you go to events, meetings, and marches. Post these and use relevant hashtags and tweet to group names (ex. @IndivisibleOsw) so they can have a record of activity. The more visibility a cause or event gets, the more impact it has. Look at how coverage of the Women’s March ballooned. It began as an idea mentioned on social media and became a worldwide network of related marches. Other protests have sprung up and spread in similar ways and keeping that momentum is essential!
Remember that both local and national issues are important. Use a variety of hashtags and message content types. Tweet at local groups and at national reporters and politicians. It’s surprising how often a national news reporter will respond or share an exchange, which can amplify your message.