How Washington went social in 2011

December 30, 2011

Politicos have been warming to social media since the 2008 Obama campaign, and 2011 saw more online activity than ever before from U.S. government leaders.

On Facebook specifically, the past year has brought us quite a few memorable highlights — especially as Republican candidates are put through their primary paces and the country gears up for another election year.

But it wasn’t all about political campaigning and self-promotion. Facebook was also a strong platform for speaking out on social issues such as preventing anti-gay bullying and working to decrease unemployment.

“Whether fighting for political victory or connecting one-on-one with voters, politicians made 2011 the most social year ever,” wrote Facebook’s politics team on the company blog.

“As we head into 2012, Facebook users can look forward to a Facebook/NBC presidential debate and the vigor of a general election campaign sure to play out across pages, live streams and sponsored stories.”

Here are some of the most notable moments in politics on Facebook in 2011.

Facebook users (and non-user visitors) were able to see President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address live streamed on C-SPAN’s Facebook page. On Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s Facebook page, visitors could tune in to watch the Republican response.

Obama’s senior officials made the annual State of the Union address more democratic when they took questions from Facebook users address. Citizens asked questions about topics ranging from foreign policy to the sluggish economy.

Pages for both political parties invited Facebook users to leave comments about the content of both speeches. Also, the White House made a special behind-the-scenes SOTU video for its Facebook page, giving viewers more details about how the speech was written.

In March, early Republican would-bes made preliminary appearances on the social network. Texas Governor Rick Perry appeared on a Facebook Live episode from SXSW, and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty announced his presidential exploratory committee on his Facebook page. Michele Bachmann also live-streamed a Facebook town hall.

In May, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Ron Paul each announced their presidential campaigns via their Facebook pages. Mike Huckabee took to Facebook to explain to voters why he would not be running for President. Mitt Romney hosted a Facebook town hall during this month, and Bachmann experienced a huge outpouring of support by voters on her Facebook page — which nearly prompted her to move up her campaign announcement.

In June, Romney formally entered the 2012 race with a livestreamed announcement on Facebook

During an October press conference live-streamed on his Facebook page, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie disappointed more than a few voters with an announcement that he would not be going after the Republican nomination.

Particularly since last year’s rash of news-making suicides related to the bullying of homosexual teens and young adults, Facebook has put a strong focus on removing bigotry and hatred from its pages.

As the network continued to beef up its focus on appropriate use and personal privacy settings, members of Congress joined with President Obama and Facebook to help fight bullying in a series of Facebook Live episodes and posts to their official pages.

“Facebook believes in addressing safety issues proactively — and building a trusted environment is fundamental to our mission and to ensuring a positive experience for people who use our site,” Facebook representative Andrew Noyes told VentureBeat in a recent email.

On April 20, the White House hosted a Facebook Town Hall. For this auspicious occasion, President Obama himself made an appearance at Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters.

Just before the event, Obama encouraged Facebook users to ask their questions about the issues that they felt were the most important. During the town hall, the President spoke about the struggling American economy, about technology’s role in decreasing unemployment and his efforts to conclude our eight-year-long war in Iraq.

Obama wasn’t the only one using Facebook as a town hall sounding board. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan jointly hosted a town hall to discuss education policy. The event was shared by both politicos on their Facebook pages, where they also took questions from Facebook users.

Following the long-awaited capture and death of Osama bin Laden, the White House took to Facebook to show a photo gallery of military bases around the world responding to the event.

The Department of Defense also published the now-famous Situation Room photo of President Obama and his team (above) as they watched and waited for news about the military operation to put an end to bin Laden.

Many members of Congress discussed the death of Osama bin Laden on their Facebook pages, some within minutes of the announcement from the White House. In the days to follow, members used their pages as a sounding board for reconsidering the mission in Afghanistan.

President George W. Bush and numerous other public figures posted statements regarding Osama bin Laden’s death on Facebook

As unrest in Egypt grew in Feburary, lawmakers started using their Facebook pages to share their thoughts on the uprisings and their political repercussions for democracy in far-flung corners of the world. In some cases, members of Congress even directly encouraged the White House to take direct action to support the freedom-fighting rebels.

Overall, news items about the civil unrest and political revolution in the Middle East and northern Africa made up the sixth most popular news topic on Facebook in 2011.

On December 7, House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and minority whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), as well as a collection of members of Congress and Congressional staff, hosted the first ever bi-partisan Congressional Hackathon in the Capitol Visitors Center in Washington.

The hackathon called on Facebook’s programmers and innovators to work with Congress on a core concern: using technologies to safely and securely allow more room online for various aspects of the democratic process.

“Software developers, designers and program engineers have a unique opportunity to help us improve the legislative process resulting in more citizen engagement, and we are very excited about working together and getting started,” said Cantor at the time.

Copyright 2011, VentureBeat

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