It used to be Americans would have to either write a letter or set up an appointment over the phone to speak with their Congressman or Senator.
Today, you can reach them with a click of your mouse thanks to social media. From Twitter, iTunes, YouTube and Facebook, Congressional members are burning up the virtual information highway with charts, speeches and comments to let their constituents know where they stand on various issues.
On the flip side, Americans can also challenge or praise their Congressional members in real time. In a world where information is disseminated to the millions with a stroke of a key, it's crucial for those who hold elected offices to get their message right the first time or face negative consequences. And with the crisis of confidence in Congress' ability in raising the debt ceiling and passing real spending cuts, members are out in digital force.
When it comes to the debt ceiling and deficit, Senators from both sides of the aisle are releasing video upon video to break down the problem and show the flow of money in hopes of taking a complicated spending issue and making it easier to understand. Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) says using new media is not an option, but a necessity.
"Tools like Facebook, Twitter, or my teletown halls allow Alaskans to share their thoughts on the budget deficit or ask for my help with a federal agency in an instant. It doesn’t matter if someone lives in an urban center like Anchorage or an Arctic community like Barrow, my live chats, Facebook messages and Twitter posts help me hear Alaskans’
concerns or provide an update about Congress around the clock," Begich said.
The digital dossier of some of the Senators on the hill is impressive.
Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) currently has 51,000 followers on Twitter, 78,111 Likes to his Facebook page, and 776,351 total upload views on his YouTube channel. The Senator's website is on track to reach over a million visits this month. Congressional aides say social media is a way not only to get their bosses' message out but also to gauge public opinion and where the pulse is.
Take Senator Mary Landrieu's (D-LA) Facebook page where she polled constituents online, to find out their preference on which budget plan did her constituents prefer:
Republicans are also embracing the digital platform. 36 Senators Tweet, 46 post their videos on YouTube and 36 are on Facebook. To help constituents on Twitter, the Republican Conference collects and circulates hash tags to make it easier for people to follow the deficit and debt debate online. “Republicans want to engage people outside the beltway about what’s going on in Washington and online media is a great way to do that. Whether it’s through tradition town halls or new media, Republicans are talking directly to Americans about cutting government spending, reducing the debt, and creating private sector jobs.” explained Nick Simpson of the Senate Republican Conference.
We've all heard the term "viral" and while many floor remarks often receive little or no attention, if they are posted online, they can garner a lot of buzz. For example, the Senate Democrat New Media Team cut a videoof the floor remarks by Senator John McCain where he said it was "Bizarro" for Republicans to be pushing for a Balanced Budget Amendment. This video garnered 50,000 video views overnight and within 24 hours almost 100,000. Those numbers are considered a major victory in the political world where one can use an opponents own words to enforce their position.
Thanks to digital media, Americans can keep up with the latest happenings or squabbles over the debt ceiling and deficit debate from the comfort of their own home, phone, iPod, etc. Its time for all of us to be engaged. As both sides slug it out over Uncle Sam's thinning wallet, Americans can not only arm themselves with information but voice their opinion as well. The time is now. Let's get typing.
A Senior Talent Producer at CNBC, and author of "Thriving in the New Economy:Lessons from Today's Top Business Minds."
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