Search This Blog

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Politics in Social Media, Social Media in Politics

Our chapters on political participation and political campaigns discuss the growing political role of social media. Our chapter on mass media notes that media corporations are themselves important interest groups. There are new developments involving both of these themes.
A release from Brigham Young University:

Chock-full of questions about Twitter and Congress, political science major David Lassen found a mentor in Professor Adam Brown (@utahdatapoints) willing to guide him through the process of answering one significant question.

Are members of Congress more likely to use Twitter if they are vulnerable to losing their seat in the next election?

Surprisingly, the duo from BYU found that electoral vulnerability has nothing to do with whether these elected officials exercise their right to tweet.

In fact, the main things that influenced whether a member of Congress got on Twitter were their age and whether their party leadership encouraged tweeting.

Lassen and Brown will publish their research in a forthcoming issue of Social Science Computer Review.

During the early days of Twitter, Republican leaders invited youngsters like Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah (@jasoninthehouse) to speak before House Republicans about using the technology. Today Republicans continue to have a larger majority on Twitter than they do on Capitol Hill.

Though fewer in number, the Democrats do have some shining Twitter stars. Prof. Brown names Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri (@clairecmc) as one of the best at interacting with constituents through Twitter.

Lassen recently graduated from BYU, and the mentored research experience helped him launch into a Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin.

"What we measured was an exploratory period where members of Congress were taking a look and dabbling with the technology," Lassen said. "Now the bigger question is how they are using it instead of if they are using it."

Currently about three-fourths of all members of Congress use Twitter, but many of those accounts have been delegated to staff members to run. Prof. Brown provides a rule of thumb for how "we the tweeple" can tell the difference.

"The actual members of Congress tweet about things like hamburgers and football games," Brown said. "When it's staff, the messages are all links to speeches and interviews. The strategy is to simply help the local press stay on top of the schedule."

[See their 2010 MPSA paper.]

Tina Nguyen writes at The Daily Caller:

Long known for wielding “soft” power in Washington, D.C. and influencing American politics through the use of its online platform, Facebook now wants to drive the political process with an infusion of cold, hard cash.

Hillicon Valley broke the news yesterday that Facebook had begun the process of forming its own political action committee. The social networking company has purchased two domain names, and

A Facebook spokesman confirmed the PAC’s existence, saying “FB PAC will give our employees a way to make their voice heard in the political process by supporting candidates who share our goals of promoting the value of innovation to our economy while giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

The company filed the paperwork for incorporation yesterday in the District of Columbia. Federal law requires Facebook PAC to register with the Federal Elections Commission upon its formation.

The creation of the PAC comes hot on the heels of COO Sheryl Sandberg’s exclusive fundraising dinner hosting President Obama, a $35,800-per-head affair (the maximum legal donation) attended by Lady Gaga. There has also been a growing series of Facebook-related public policy events.

Seth Cline writes at the Open Secrets blog:

Three years ago, Facebook did not have a presence in Washington, D.C. But since then, the company has been significantly stepped up its politicking efforts, as OpenSecrets Blog has previously reported. During the first six months of 2011 alone, Facebook spent $550,000 on lobbying, nearly as much as it spent the previous two years combined. The company has also hired nearly two dozen lobbyists this year -- up from just two lobbyist last year.

Facebook's lobbying efforts have targeted governmental agencies such as the Department of Commerce and the Federal Trade Commission, as well as Congress. Much of this lobbying has involved issues like Internet privacy, online location-tracking and reform of patent and copyright laws.

Facebook's Washington push has also included new personnel hires. In the past year, it has added several Washington insiders to its staff and its board of directors, including Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, as OpenSecrets Blog previously reported.

With the creation of FB PAC, the group will now be able to back specific candidates using the donations of employees, who have benefited from some of the estimated $1.6 billion Facebook earned in revenues in the first half of 2011. The company's political push also coincides with lawmakers recent interest in tech companies such as Google, Microsoft and to some extent, itself.