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Social Advocacy & Politics: The Coolest Idea a Senator Ever Dissed

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A couple weeks ago I tweeted a link to a really cool idea: AMTRAK was going to offer “Residencies” for writers; an idea generated by a writer tweeting at Amtrak.

Cool, huh? Aside from the possibility of some excellent literature, the program would provide a lot of marketing value for Amtrak. Riding trains used to be full of romance and mystery Mystery Train by Jim Jarmusch(once I even rode a train from Tokyo to Hakone called the Romance Car… and we all want to ride the Mystery Train). Now Amtrak is struggling financially and gets federal budget support to make ends meet. And with government funding comes regulation.

At least, it seems that Senator Jeff Flake wants to increase regulations on Amtrak… he wants to control how Amtrak markets itself. And like the commisars of old, the hand of government regulation has a poor eye for beauty. Flake tweeted that Amtrak should “stop taking free rides from taxpayers before giving them out to bloggers.”

But the article Senator Flake linked to never mentions “bloggers.” It talks about Amtrak’s WRITERS in residence program. Now, I know bloggers are writers, but so are novelist, biographers and historians.

Clearly Flake doesn’t like “bloggers” and he doesn’t like Amtrak getting federal funds. But if Amtrak wants to get out its financial difficulties it has to make people WANT to take the train again. That is competing in the market. But, for some reason, Senator Flake (R-AZ) is against allowing Amtrak to compete in the market.

What’s going on here? What I see is a Senator feeling compelled to tweet something critical about what he considers wasteful government spending. But because tweets are part of a web of connected information, his tweets are part of a larger story he cannot control. He cannot control how cool the residency program sounds. He cannot control the amazing way that a tweet inspired the program. And the Senator cannot control that people will read the link he provided and see he misrepresented it. And he cannot control that these other parts of the story are so much more compelling than his part, so he ends up looking like a fool.

And that is what social media is… a place where your comments are plopped down into a living story. And if you make a big splash, which Senators often do, your comments get sucked into a bigger story that draws attention to your part of the story over and over again. And if you look dumb in the story that becomes part of your digital footprint. So be careful what you diss and how foolish you look doing it… you just might get trapped in that story… in the Twitter Zone.

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