If a politician was cited for say, speeding, what are the chances she or he would share the news via Twitter or Facebook?
Parked along highway, while officer writes ticket. All a terrible misunderstanding. Please don’t mention to local newspapers. Thks.
Well, no. Politicians, like the rest of us, are not programmed to disclose situations that cause controversy or embarrassment.
If you follow your hometown politicians on Facebook, you know they use social media to share information and opinions, provide updates on public events, engage in self-promotion and, now and again, show their warm and fuzzy selves.
Supervisor and state Senate candidate Mike McGuire last week used his Facebook page to promote events in Healdsburg, Rohnert Park and Eureka, re-broadcast earthquake alerts, show photos of beautiful landscapes (that happen to be in the Senate district he hopes to represent) and even file a backyard crop report.
Above a photograph of an apple, McGuire wrote: “Bumper crop of apples — for the first time — off of our tree we planted last year! Dang excited!”
McGuire, among the first and most enthusiastic adopters of social media, understands its value as a means for telling his story. More than 7,700 people have liked his candidate’s page, which proclaims: “Next Gen votes. It’s your future. Own it.”
Congressman Jared Huffman also understands. Huffman last week took his Facebook followers on a marijuana bust in Trinity County, thanked the people who attended a Petaluma meeting on plans to close a mail processing plant, praised the latest court decision involving salmon protection and Klamath River flows, and even displayed a photograph of himself and the salmon he caught.
For politicians, this becomes a powerful tool. Twenty years ago, a newsletter sent in the mail served as the primary method of communicating with friends and supporters.
Today, politicians can communicate as often as they like, and it happens instantaneously. In these circumstances, they are left to worry they are sharing too much.
For people who follow their favorite politicians, these updates can be entertaining and useful. They often provide valuable information.
But do they make us better citizens?
A survey published last week by the Pew Research Center and Rutgers University says the answer is: Maybe not.
The study focused on an issue that has sharply divided Americans — revelations of widespread government surveillance of phone calls and emails. Researchers set out to find whether the availability of social media made people more or less likely to discuss these issues.
What they found was that people who use social media are less likely to discuss controversial issues in public settings, and they are also less likely to discuss them online if they think others don’t share their views.
“People who use social media are finding new ways to engage politically, but there’s a big difference between political participation and deliberation,” a Rutgers professor told the New York Times. “People are less likely to express opinions and to be exposed to the other side, and that’s exposure we’d like to see in a democracy.”
Last week, social media was credited with reporting events in the aftermath of a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, but Times tech writer Nick Bilton found less encouraging news while monitoring Twitter feeds from the scene.