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Patrick McHenry’s Facebook Sit-In, FB on K Street, and YouTube Town Halls

Sit-In, Facebook Style

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) had a busy week. First, he got lots of press and gained some notoriety for calling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Elizabeth Warren a liar during a committee hearing.

The chairman of the House Oversight TARP, Financial Services and Bailouts of Public and Private Programs subcommittee soon learned what it means to be the target of a sit-in of the Facebook kind. Warren’s supporters took to McHenry’s Facebook page and staged a large protest after the hearing ended, which has continued unabated for more than three days. McHenry has created his Facebook (FB) fan page so than anyone who “Likes” him can post messages on his wall that are visible to all. This setting is adjustable; the congressman could change it so that no one can post to his wall other than himself.

Now, it can be a good thing for a lawmaker to set a Facebook account so that everyone’s posts will be visible to the world; that way, a member can receive both good and bad feedback from constituents. But right now, McHenry is feeling the downside of all that transparency. Hundreds, if not thousands, of FB users are availing themselves of the ability to publicly express their frustration and anger at what they see as a lack of class by the congressman.

Every official has supporters and detractors, and every office has a few constituents who call every day to complain about a congressman’s voting record. But FB allows for those types of communications to be bundled and shared. People who are frustrated with a lawmaker can find other like-minded detractors, and they can collectively protest without having to go to Washington to do so. As of Friday morning after the hearing, McHenry’s Facebook wall was trending about 10 negative posts for every post of support for his attack on Warren. Of course, Rep. McHenry’s staff could just change his Facebook setting and block people from posting on his wall, but at this point I think his detractors have been heard loud and clear. I’m generally against comment editing and deletion by site administrators, but in this case I think it would be OK for McHenry to close down wall posts altogether, as they clearly drown out his ability to use Facebook to communicate with his fans.

Social Media Comes to Washington

Facebook is beefing up its lobbying presence. Wapo’s The Fix reported this week that Facebook hired ex-George W. Bush adviser Joel Kaplan to become vice president of public policy. While Facebook already has a number of Washington staffers, most of the current staff’s primary purpose it to help Congress, its staff, federal agencies etc. learn how to use Facebook. Getting a stronger presence on K Street is important for any company with 600 million users. And with the Hill potentially soon tackling online-privacy laws, Facebook had better hope they’re not too late staffing up.

YouTube came out with a neat feature last week called Town Hall. It allows viewers to pick a legislative subject area, like health care or the budget, then view two short videos of members of Congress side-by-side. The viewer can then vote on which lawmaker’s argument is more persuasive. There’s a leaderboard with videos that received the most votes, a place to watch all videos and there’s even a place to ask your own question.

YouTube writes that party affiliations are not displayed until the viewer votes. However, when I tested out the site, I noticed the Democrat was always on the left and the Republican was always on the right. I hope they catch that mistake and randomize it.

More on YouTube: The New York Times’ Caucus blog spent some time analyzing the way presidential candidates have used YouTube videos to announce their candidacy, rather than doing it “on the steps of the courthouse with lots of confetti” like they used to. The blog also compared the style of the announcement videos, from Newt Gingrich talking in front of a black background, Mitt Romney casually talking in front of a football stadium, and President Obama’s announcement video, which featured mostly volunteers and voters.

Jeffrey Levy, the Environmental Protection Agency’s director of web communications, has a blog post at Govloop about the effectiveness of the EPA’s social-media efforts. Levy has been at the forefront of social-media adaptation at the agency level. One important conclusions in the article is that “People want to interact with us where we’re meeting them, not go back to our site.” This means, based on the data of views on Facebook and clicks on EPA links, people would much rather have information fed to them via Facebook instead of (for a variety of reasons) follow extra links away from Facebook to EPA.gov. This is a very important lesson for all agencies, and probably the Hill, to learn.

Levy’s second important conclusion: “The more we interact, the more people interact with us.” For offices trying to understand how engagement works, this rule is pretty straightforward. If you want to hear back from your constituents more often, talk to them (individually if you can) instead of at them – i.e. through press releases. The more ‘conversation-y’ the posts, the more the fans and followers can relate.


Following up a bit on last week’s post, Dial groups are so 2008, I wanted to share that a hedge fund has been formed that will use Twitter sentiment to help its algorithms in determining which stocks to buy and sell. The old methods of determining value, whether it’s in a political message or a stock, are quickly slipping away.

The San Jose Mercury News had an interesting article about Facebook assembling a “global team of diplomats” to “network with foreign governments and cultures.”

The New York Times has an article about the U.S. Army using social media for recruitment. Their biggest hurdle? Explaining the fun of boot camp this way: “…in the first three weeks of basic training, we take away your smartphone.” That means soldiers in basic can’t share their stories with the outside world to entice other would-be recruits. Worth a read.

New to Facebook this week: Dick Cheney, in anticipation and promotion of his new book. New to Twitter: A member of the Cabinet joined this week, Education Sec. Arne Duncan, @arneduncan. This is separate from the official Department of Education account, @usedgov.

And on the Hill: Sen. Bob Casey, @SenBobCasey and newly-appointed Sen. Dean Heller, @sendeanheller also joined Twitter. By my count that’s 73 senators or Senate offices on Twitter and 72 on Facebook (not counting campaign or profile accounts). As written previously on WhoRunsGov, Jesse Lee is now the White House Director of Progressive Media & Online Response, with a shiny-new handle: @jesseclee44. I’m looking forward to see how his job to specifically use and combat social-media sentiment can be accomplished from the West Wing.

Josh Shpayher is a contributing blogger at WhoRunsGov and the creator of GovSM.com. His posts appear every Friday. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @joshpolitico and @govsm.

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