Today’s post was inspired by this article in the Washington Post Democrats seek stronger social media presence to guard against potential Russian interference in midterms as well as the uptick of posting I’ve seen on Twitter by Democratic leaders. What I’m writing today is Twitter-specific, although most of it should translate easily to those who still use Facebook. As we gear up for the mid-terms, it’s helpful to consider how we, as individuals, can also gear up our messaging on behalf of the Party and the candidates we support. As per usual, I write, not as an expert, but as someone who has observed and learned over the years.
Follow the leaders
If you aren’t already, follow Dems who are in leadership positions, whether it is local, state, or national. You can be sure that they are working a planned strategy with messaging and talking points. It’s been obvious for years that Republicans do this; I bet if we sat down and compared letters received from Republican elected officials, we’d see the obvious similarities. Fox “News” is a megaphone for amplifying Republican talking points and in the case of 45*, often provides the tweet-topic of the day. It’s been less obvious with Democrats, because we are fighting an adversarial media and sometimes even amongst ourselves. If you want to get past the filter and the bias, follow your preferred Democratic leaders. In the case of Twitter, where most of us have so many follows that it’s hard to see everything, be sure to check the feeds of your selected leaders on a daily basis.
Amplify the leadership
Liking is a nice feature on Twitter, but it’s largely ineffective as a message-booster. Retweeting, or better yet, retweeting with a comment is a far more effective way of boosting the Democratic message. Sometimes my comments are nothing more than a “preach, my sister” type of comment, because the original tweet says it so well. But if I think I can add an insight or a local perspective that may add to the original tweet, I say it. The ultimate point, however, is to get the Democratic message out into the broader Twitter world.
For someone like me, who uses Twitter for part “dear diary” entries, part newsfeed, part basking in dog/cat floofiness, and part political microphone, the use of hashtags often falls by the wayside. But when it comes to sending a message, hashtags are invaluable. They tie you to a greater community of tweeters; they take your microphone and turn it into a megaphone; and they are an invaluable search tool. If you see a Democratic leader using a particular hashtag (Sunday morning, for example Leader Pelosi was using #CultureofCorruption, which indicated the direction of Dem messaging even before she appeared on AM Joy) and you have a comment to add, use the hashtag. If you see a Dem message using a particular hashtag, do a search to see what others are tweeting about the topic. You can be as creative as you want…or not (let’s face it; sometimes it’s just easier to do a retweet without feeling like you have to come up with a pithy or eloquent comment), but hashtags give potency to any message.
If you read the Washington Post article at the beginning of this post, you saw this:
…Democrats found that automated Twitter accounts promoted story lines intended to hurt their candidates in the final weeks of the campaign. They also found that they could successfully push back by flooding the same networks with advertising and organized posting from supporters. In most cases, the counterattack consisted of positive messages about the Democratic candidate. (bolding mine)
Twitter can feel like a cesspool because of the incessant negativity, brawling, and name-calling. But if you’re using Twitter to promote a candidate, it really is the appropriate time to go high when they go low. Last time I checked, no candidate has a group called, “A**holes for Candidate A,” so there’s no reason to start one or be one. Highlight policies with which you agree; share anecdotes of meeting candidates (if you’ve been so fortunate); tell your story and how the candidate works best for you. But most of all, let the candidate and their team determine the best way to respond to negative attacks, and follow their lead. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll notice I was relentless in posting positive comments and opinions re Nancy Pelosi this past weekend. That was intentional, and my way of being positive on behalf of a candidate, both for the House and potentially for Speaker, for whom I have the greatest respect.
Know your personal rules of engagement
I don’t use Twitter to engage in troll wars, but occasionally I see information that I know is factually incorrect. It’s at that point that I have a decision to make: engage or ignore? My personal rule of thumb is to engage only if it seems likely that it is a “good-faith” error, i.e. not the result of dismissal of facts or a blind adherence to a position with insufficient research. For example, the other day, I read a disparaging comment in response to a positive tweet about Nancy Pelosi’s accomplishments; the comment was about how she was responsible for the lack of public option in the ACA. My response was “incorrect”, and I provided a link to an article, written right after the House passed its version of the ACA, which mentioned the inclusion of the public option. I didn’t want to get into a battle, and if it had come to that, I would not have engaged. But it seemed an important misperception to correct, and one I could easily support with sources. I don’t do this to show off or show someone up; I do this to limit the amount of misinformation that gets repeated and to ensure that other tweeters see the correction. Establishing your own rules of engagement when it comes to misinformation or factual errors will make your advocacy more effective in the long run.
It’s your account; see the pivot, know the pivot
We’ve all seen it. That moment in a comment thread where someone from the Right inevitably brings Hillary Clinton or President Obama into the argument, for no apparent reason other than they can. And just as inevitably, someone takes the bait, and suddenly a discussion of policy turns into something else altogether. I have to admit I’ve fallen into the trap myself; I made a conscious decision to engage a troll, and the “discussion” soon turned to Hillary, even though there was no reason for her name to be mentioned at all. It took me several tweets before I caught myself, and when I pointed out that she had nothing to do with the issue we had been discussing, I was accused of something, something, blah, blah, blah. It was then I ended the conversation. What that experience taught me is that if one does engage with someone who wants to argue, it’s necessary to be vigilant and ever-ready for their pivot to the unrelated. When it happens, one also has to be relentless in doing one’s own pivot back to the original topic of conversation, and if your commenter is unwilling, just end the conversation. Sometimes a firm, “Goodbye” is enough; if they continue, ignoring is the next best choice. If all else fails, the mute or block buttons are readily available.
I have no intention of giving up my @dog_feelings for general goodness, or @Lin_Manuel for inspiration, or @KevinMKruse for history well done. But I am committed to raising my digital advocacy game through the mid-terms, and I hope you’ll consider joining me. And if anyone has a catchy hashtag idea to indicate “signal boost this” for the Moose and Village crowd, I’m all ears.