In the wake of the Orlando massacre, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) took to the Senate floor to filibuster the appropriations proceedings to voice his frustration of Congress' unwillingness to make meaningful legislation to address gun violence. As the Senator representing Sandy Hook Elementary School, Murphy is particularly well positioned to use his frustration and disgust to make this political point. And while traditionally the power of the filibuster to disrupt the flow of business in the Senate is merely showmanship, unless it can force the missing of a meaningful deadline, Murphy and nearly all of the 44 Democratic Senators that joined him in the 15-hour effort gave this show a big splash with the help of social media.
The power of social advocacy is to leverage social media to elevate the public awareness and accountability of an advocacy action that would otherwise be relegated to the obscurity of a Member of Congress's staff inbox or a local gathering of protestors. By incorporating social media into any offline action, we can create an amplification chamber that ensures that more of the public, the press and other political influencers and policy makers will be aware of it.
When it comes to tackling gun violence, social media amplification of calls for Congress to take meaningful action are crucial.
Consider Congressional inaction following the Sandy Hook massacre - despite repeated opinion polls that showed about 90% of the American public favored universal background checks for the purchase of guns (92% of gun owners, too) - closing the gun show, internet and personal sale loopholes - most of the messages Members of Congress received from constituents advocated against background checks. Thus, enough Members voted against universal background checks to kill the proposal. And three and a half years, and too many mass shootings later, nothing has changed at the federal level.
Social media allows us to create a large public outcry about issues like gun violence that can potentially overtake direct communications with Congress. The NRA might be far more effective convincing its members to email Congress in opposition to gun control measures than the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, but that balance can be change with social media. As Congress looks more and more proactively to what people are saying on social media about the issues, it'll become harder and harder for them to hide behind email tallies for their decisions to buck overwhelming popular support for a policy. This is because the voices Congress sees rising up on social media can, and will, be seen by everyone else - the press, their constituents, community leaders and more.
During Senator Murphy's filibuster, his staff were pushing out tweets in support of his message to do something to curb gun violence. And while there was a mix of views in the explosion of social media posts about the need for Congress to act on anti-gun violence proposals, the upshot was a bit of a breakthrough - the majority Republican leadership has agreed to allow votes on several proposals to curb gun violence and negotiations continue to find a compromise proposal that Republicans might vote for... maybe.
It's true that sometimes small victories look an awful lot like defeats. When it comes to dealing with gun violence, this is standard operating procedure for Congress. They ultimately pass nothing because the pro-gun lobby (as opposed to the preferences of the people) still drives the votes, especially among Republicans. But the more social media light we shine on the disconnect between what the people want and what Congress does, the more likely we will continue to see small victories and, perhaps in time, a real victory.