What is there about problems that are so big and seemingly so insoluble that to some people they become the subject of jokes? (well, if you can call them jokes)
This concerns me because one of the biggest problems out there, and which the icitizen team is striving mightily to solve—the problem of re-engaging citizens and their representatives to make America work better for everyone—is getting that kind of treatment. When the jokes start, that’s when it feels like we’ve given up. Well, America, we haven’t!
One of our national dailies reported over the weekend [Wall Street Journal] on the phenomenon of how some lawmakers have been slugging it out this summer using social media in an attempt to connect better with voters and generally increase their standings. It’s a straight news piece, sort of, and the usual suspects—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube—are all here. The named subjects, who include Rep. Debbie Dingle (D-Mich.), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Rep. Pete Sessions (R.-Texas), Rep. Katherine Clark (D.-Mass.), plus a few others, are offered up as examples of “hundreds” of representatives taking part in, as the headline puts it: the “Social Showdown in Congress.”
I learned, for instance, how Rep. Dingell deployed her “secret weapon” (her husband and former representative, John) to tweet for her. John has followers like Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who together have 2.7 million followers, and who apparently have produced 3,400 new followers for Ms. Dingell. The Democratic winner, however, was Rep. Clark, who doubled her social media following on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with the help of a poodle-like bunny named Wally, who (while we’re at it) put in a plug for the Pet and Women Safety Act, a bill sponsored by Clark that would put pets under the protection of domestic-violence laws.
Across the aisle, Rep. Issa deployed a colorful collage that included a beach, a cheeseburger, an engagement ring and a kitten. Caption: “Competing in GOP #Instagram Challenge. I’ve heard these kinds of things do well there. Did I miss any important ones?” The Republicans reportedly favor Instagram because of its large number of young female users, a segment the GOP needs to do better reaching. (Steak knives are the prize.)
Some of our representatives and their staffs have clearly been having a bit of summer fun. Who knows: They may even be “connecting” with constituents better than they did back in the days when aides weighed the mail. And “Social Showdown in Congress” is a sure-enough smart headline. It got my attention. But maybe it’s a bit too smart. The trouble is that our country’s enormous problem of civic engagement is not going to be solved at some random digital version of the O.K. Corral.
This is no joking matter. There’s too much work to do. He may not have known it, but Rep. Issa poignantly summarized the problem when asked what all this had taught him about social media: “Most people,” he said, “don’t care how much you know; they want to know how much you care.” As social media is now constructed and used by many (including evidently many of our representatives in Washington), this might be true. For now. But not for long. Things are changing. icitizen is closing in fast on something larger, deeper, more lasting and of greater value to our country. We believe that citizens indeed do care about what representatives know and that representatives care about what citizens know. And we’re building a technology platform that enables better-informed representatives and better-informed citizens together to craft a better-engaged America at all levels, one that benefits us all.
Now that’s a showdown.
I hope you’re having a great summer. Here at icitizen, we’re having a hard-working one and will have much new to show you in the fall.
Onward and Upward,