Right wing leading on social media, survey suggests

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A survey conducted by the Congressional Management Foundation has found that Republicans might be ahead of Democrats in the race to control the world of social media, The Hill reports.

The survey, conducted between October and December 2010, was of 260 congressional staffers. Of those, Democrats said their offices spent much less time online, compared to Republicans.

At one time, the GOP was not considered the most web-savvy bunch. Arizona Sen. John McCain said during the 2008 campaign that he didn't even have an email address.

Today, things are a little different.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has used Twitter not only to post hateful comments, but, some point out, to make her own commentary while sidestepping questions from reporters and voters.

It suggests a troubling question about what the consequences could be when social networking is misused.

On all sides of the political arena, candidates and contenders have been utilizing the Internet to rally people to their cause, aid their campaigns, and connect with people in general. Depending on who uses it, and for what reason, this could be a good thing, or a bad one.

Bradford Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, told The Hill, "In every single category of online activity, Democrats [believe] their office spends too little time on online communications.

"Other studies have shown that, in terms of volume, Republicans were certainly more active on Twitter."

He also warned, "Our research does show that when one party in online communications gets a lead or gets ahead of the other party in the chamber, it's kind of hard to catch up."

He noted, however, that the focus of the study was not to specifically target how much social networks were utilized (or by whom), but rather to examine the overall use of social media in general on Capitol Hill. As a result, the CMF did not reach a definitive conclusion as to whether Republicans have truly outnumbered Democrats on social networks. Still, Fitch called the survey results "very interesting," and said that the CMF plans to explore this further, and in greater detail.

Many congressional staffers called Facebook, Twitter and YouTube positive and significant tools for understanding constituents' views. But they also maintained that "old school methods" - like district events, town hall meetings, and phone calls, faxes, and emails from voters - were still of great importance.

Another report, by Brand React, has called social media, specifically Twitter, an "American soapbox" on which politicians can speak directly to their constituents. It cited President Obama's Twitter Town Hall event in July 2011, during which over 70,000 people tweeted questions and comments to the president, ranging from topics like jobs and housing to the legalization of marijuana.

That report concluded by noting that while government and social media have engaged in a casual alliance, people in power are still trying to determine how best to utilize these tools.

Meanwhile, unions and other working class and progressive groups are actively developing their use of online social media to organize and lobby. They will also have to keep an eye on what the right wing is doing with social media, and how to deal with it.

Photo: President Barack Obama tweets at the July 2011 Twitter Town Hall event. Pete Souza / Wikipedia

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