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Obama has implemented a new social media plan called #My2k to open the discussion about the changes in taxes that could result from the current budget discussions.   My impression is that citizens are supposed to share via social media, specifically twitter, what 2000 dollars means them.  This 2000 dollars is the money they would be losing due to tax hikes.  The intention of this social media plan is to get citizens to rally around the tax debate and demand change.  When I logged on to twitter today and searched #My2k, instead of finding stories of average citizens, I found other politicians using this hashtag to further their own political agenda both in favor of the president’s plan and against it.  This social media campaign is rather new and there is still potential for it to gain popularity among the American people.  But can a social media campaign spark policy change?

The research in this area is practically non-existent since social media is such a new technology.  In addition, this is the first presidency that has actually been able to use social media platforms to reach citizens.  We are in relatively uncharted territory, but someone in the White House decided a social media campaign would be successful in getting citizens involved in the debt conversations.  This campaign is so much more than posting a 140 word tweet.  It is about getting average citizens to stand up and demand change.  There is a call to action needed for this campaign to be successful.  How is a 140 word tweet going to create enough buzz for a call to action? From my personal experience, the content that goes viral on social media is content that is a personal story shared with friends, who then share it with their friends, who then share it with their friends, until thousands of users have re-posted the content.  I think that some of the stories that the President is asking America to post have the potential to go viral, but will they create this urgency to act?

The most comparable piece of literature I could find was an article about how the Occupy Wall Street movement used social media to create a movement out of one protest.  They used social media to gather thousands of citizens nationwide behind the cause to create a full blown movement in just one month.  The research looked at the first 30 days of the movement and the difference between traditional media coverage and social media.  The found that in traditional media the OWS movement was neglected and ignored.   When some stories were finally written the mass media framed the movement incredibly negatively.  In social media however the OWS movement was vibrant and widely discussed.  On the first day of protests there were almost 5,000 mentions on twitter and by a month into the protest on October 14th there were almost 50,000 mentions on twitter.  They found that social media has transformed the context of activism.  Social movements no longer have to stick to traditional news values to get publicity.  I believe the authors described it best by saying, “Activists today, including OWS, will continue to use social media and their bodies. Like cameras and cobblestones, activists will use Facebook and Twitter, even if toward unintended ends, “cause every tool is a weapon—if you hold it right” (as Ani DiFranco reminds us).”

Although the president’s campaign is not a social movement there are some parallels.  The OWS movement brought together citizens to protest the economic injustices of our country.  President Obama is asking citizens to speak out against potential economic injustices.  It seems like the similarities in content should suggest that the President’s message would take off.  But it hasn’t yet.  Perhaps social media is best suited for activism not policy change.  But how different are the two?  Activism can lead to policy change.  Maybe it’s the fact that the source is not a citizen run social movement?  It is clear due to the lack of research that social media and its effects in regards to policy change are still relatively unknown.  The OWS movement has proven that the use of social media can be extremely successful especially in regards to activism.  But whether or not the government can use social media to the same extent is still something we are exploring.

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