Let me first say, have a happy and healthy New Year. Be safe tonight while you are having fun.
Secondly, @JohnBruner’s discovery that Twitter’s median user has only one follower does not undermine Twitter’s role as a great political democratizer. Sure, many of the 218 million registered accounts are inactive, but among the 100+ million monthly active users, the median number of followers is 61. Not only is that is a LOT of active users, we know that people with 50 to 300 or so followers are tweeting at a lot of people they know offline and really do influence them. Add their influence to the influencers with larger followings and Twitter becomes a very powerful tool for democratizing political power, directly and indirectly.
Fifty-nine percent of journalists are on Twitter. They use Twitter to promote their work, interact with readers and engage with news sources and makers. We know that a few years before Arab Spring, civil society organizers and citizens in the region were focused on Facebook. By increasing their use of Twitter to reach international journalists in the year before the demonstrations they helped generate more global press coverage and international attention to their efforts. That is democratizing, too.
We also know that all 100 U.S. Senators are on Twitter, as well as over 90 percent of House Members. Not only do lots of people follow Members of Congress, but many Members follow lots of people back. And Members also talk to people on Twitter (occasionally… some Members more often than others). Many also have staff monitoring and reporting on what is being said on Twitter, unless the Member is very secure about re-election prospects… then they ignore Twitter. (AUTHOR’S NOTE: We can easily change this calculus by using Twitter to shame Members who ignore Twitter). Having more direct access to lawmakers is obviously democratizing. It also increases trust in government, which facilitates better government in a virtuous circle.
The numbers of lawmakers on Twitter are also impressive at the state level and in some local governments. The bottom line is whether using Twitter to reach a lot of people directly, using it to reach a lot of people through the press (and other Twitter influentials), or using it to talk directly to lawmakers, Twitter gives more people the tools to exert political power than ever before. Democratization gets deeper still, as the active political base becomes more informed and more engaged.
How much Twitter democratizes political power is an empirical question that will change over time. We should measure it well and often to track its development. But a more informed and active citizenry will be good for our democracy. It will push Congress to act on issues that have overwhelming public support. And it will ensure that the people know what their government is doing and can TAKE ACTION to make it better.
Social Advocacy & Politics is a weekly, exclusive column for Social Media Today by Alan Rosenblatt that explores the intersection of politics and social media. Look for the next installment next Tuesday morning.