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Social media’s role in a #GovernmentShutdown

When the government shut down for 21 days in 1995, social media didn’t exist.  That shutdown, according to a Gallup poll, didn’t affect public opinion in the long run.

But during the 16-day shutdown that ended Oct. 17, social media was used widely. When thousands of  Americans  temporarily lost their jobs and popular government programs closed, people could easily voice their opinions and share information on social media. Whether this shutdown — captured vividly on social media — will have a long-term impact on public opinion remains to be seen.

A group at New York University gathered 1,200 tweets from members of congress over a 24 hour span, Democrats in blue, Republicans in red. The bigger the word, the more often it was tweeted.

A group at New York University gathered 1,200 tweets from members of Congress over a 24-hour span, Democrats in blue, Republicans in red. The bigger the word, the more often it was tweeted.

During the shutdown, Twitter was ablaze with trending topics surrounding the shutdown. Some of the more popular hashtags were:  #GovernmentShutdown, #ShutdownPickupLines, #NoBudgetNoPants and #DearCongress.

Social media was used in several different ways. Some people used it to make fun of the shutdown. Others used it to express anger toward the government or perhaps bring change. However it was used, it iTwitter and other forms of social media gave the masses a voice.

Social media has become an easy way for Americans to communicate with politicians. Through the “Today” show’s #DearCongress hashtag, voters can tweet 140 characters of complaint or approval directly to all 532 members of Congress at once.

An article in The Oregonian said tens of thousands of fed-up Americans used social media to vent at Congress. It said during the last government shutdown, in 1995, angry Americans would have had to look up their representative’s address and write him or her a letter or possibly an email. Today, social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram allow Americans to instantly be heard by politicians and millions of other Americans.

It was not just the American people who turned to social media during the shutdown. Lawmakers used social media as a way to keep in touch with voters and reiterate their stances on issues such as Obamacare.

House Speaker John Boehner’s Oct. 2  Facebook post urging Senate Democrats to keep the government open earned more than 14,000 “likes” and more than 16,000 comments. Some hailed Boehner as a hero; others called him anything from a “crybaby” to a “terrorist.” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s Oct. 9 post blamed Boehner and House Republicans for the government shutdown and its ill effects on the nation. The post received more than 5,000 “likes” and nearly 2,000 comments on Facebook. Although it is impossible to calculate the impact politicians’ social media interactions had on the government shutdown, it is undeniable that it pushed the discussion further and allowed for more people to interact with politicians.

The American people were not only using social media to reach out to politicians. Reporters and news broadcasters were able to interact with the American people about the government shutdown through social media.

NBC News correspondent Kelly O’Donnell said in an article published in The Columbus Dispatch that social media proved especially helpful in her coverage of the shutdown. She said she used questions in her reporting that she got through Twitter and email from people across the nation.

In the same article, CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash said social media made her reporting easier. In the past, Bash said, she would have to plead with producers for time off of the air to report. However, during her coverage of the recent shutdown, sources texted, tweeted or emailed her information to her while she was on the air, creating instant and accurate reporting.

What have we learned about social media’s role?

  •  Social media is a great way for millions of Americans to voice their opinions, reach out to politicians and spread information.
  • Social media is a good platform for politicians to reach out to voters, especially during a time when they aren’t looked upon favorably, like a government shutdown.
  • Social media also is a good way for reporters to stay in contact with sources and get accurate information fast.

Does social media influence politics? It may not bring the immediate change, but it definitely brings more voices to the table during a political discussion. Maybe a better question is, does social media influence the way the American people deal with politics? I would say yes. At times it may feel that we are powerless when it comes to politics and governmental decision-making. Social media gives everyone in our country a voice, which is more than can be said about many countries around the world today.

_By Ben Malotte

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  1. trumpetchick9
    November 4, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Social media has definitely given the public a voice in politics. I think it’s also affected other parts of our society too: writers of TV shows sometimes base their plots off of the feedback they receive on social media, charities use it to raise money and news travels a lot faster with it. It would be interesting to look at the other side and see how social media has negatively affected society too. I definitely think social media is a good thing, but I also think that it’s negative effects should be looked at as well.

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