Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Power of Social Media in Politics: Eye on Keyser

Politics and social media were made for each other, if only politicians could figure out how to use it.

Mitt Romney may be one of the worst examples, at least until recently. His Facebook page had almost zero level of interaction. Imagine sitting in a room with a dozen people, periodically shouting at them, and then putting in earplugs and going to sleep.

Other elected officials seem to have a better grasp. Delegate Gary Howell (R-Mineral) produces a live feed on Facebook of every action in the West Virginia House of Delegates. He updates constituents on votes taken, including his own vote and a brief explanation of it. Most importantly, Howell interacts with constituents. Even octogenarian Republican congressman Roscoe Bartlett from the western panhandle of Maryland maintains a Facebook page that responds to questions and comments.

In Keyser, concerned residents formed a group on Facebook called "Eye on Keyser." The purpose of the group seemed to be to discuss issues in city government. Participants swelled quickly, from hundreds to now over 1,500. It's not for the faint of heart. Discussion gets about as rough and tumble as can be imagined, with accusations and amateur background checks tossed about.

However, Eye on Keyser was able to move beyond a debate society and truly start to benefit the community. It organized a crime watch patrol in some key neighborhoods. The most active members have certainly rattled the town establishment, just based on quotes in the paper alone.

One way that they could be more effective is by crowdsourcing. Some members have obtained documents and records that they believe could contain inconsistencies. They should scan them online or provide a link to the sources. That way, they take advantage of the energy and expertise of 1,500 people, some of whom might have skills that could be useful.

Social media allows for debate, but also collaboration on a scale almost unimaginable. This is a positive development for democracy and civil society, even though the process might not always be pretty or harmonious.

1 comment:

  1. Tumblr, Reddit, and 4chan may be interesting ways to look at this on a large scale.