Posts Tagged ‘politics online’

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Meet Adriel Hampton: A Social Media Candidate for Congress

June 2, 2009

Ask anyone what they think the previous occupation of a Congressman was, and they’ll probably say “lawyer.” Or career politician. They might picture someone in a stuffy suit, making lots of promises they don’t keep. And it’s true that many members of Congress have backgrounds in law or business, and often have great personal wealth or super-connected families at their disposal to give them a leg up in the campaign.

But Adriel Hampton is refreshing because he’s not any of those things. Adriel is currently running for Congress in the 10th district of California — and he’s one of our very own social media guys, among other things. He’s a pioneer and thought leader in the realm of government 2.0 and open government. He even made headlines for how he announced his Congressional campaign: via Twitter.

Last week I had the chance to interview Adriel about his bid for Congress — check out what he had to say about politics, government, social media, and transparency. This is a guy who truly believes in changing American politics and OPENING government to the people. He’s running for Congress to bring real change to Congress – I’d say that’s something to get excited about.

NC: Tell us about yourself. Why are you running for Congress?
AH: I’m running for Congress because I deeply feel that our system is broken. People say it takes a half million dollars and name ID to even think of running – and that’s the problem. I’m running to show that what it takes to serve as a representative of your community in Congress is vision, a record of community building and some really hard work.

As far as social media, I’m a longtime journalist in addition to my current job as a municipal investigator. I began blogging in 2003, used blogs for environmental and development campaigns after I left newspapering in 2005, and I got really involved with the “2.0” tools in 2008 around the Barack Obama campaign (though in 2005 I did speak at the Webzine conference on blogging and journalism). I use social media as a two-way channel and I’m really excited to see mass communication moving away from broadcast and becoming more person-to-person. I’m very active with GovLoop, a network for gov employees, and was introduced to lots of collaborative tools for activism by Jon Pincus last fall during the anti-bank bailout fight. As you know, I’m very active on Twitter, which is a natural medium for me based on my communication style and career as a journalist. I founded Gov 2.0 Radio on BlogTalkRadio along with several friends from GovLoop, and, lastly, I help with official social media outreach for my employer, the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.

NC: You’re being called by some the first-ever social media candidate for Congress. What does this mean to you? What role does social media play in your campaign and in your platform?
AH: I know that I’m not the first politician to use social media, by far. However, I think that meme is out there because I’m one of the first people to embrace social media before running for office. Until this local congressional seat opened up with the planned resignation of the incumbent, I was in school and pursuing a career as a city manager. I believe social media is key to the effective democratic governance of this country because of its relative transparency and the ability to talk to many people and build rapport and exchange ideas faster and more broadly than ever before. I also support net neutrality, which I believe is important to preserving the growth of social media. I’ve also been able to recruit a large number of volunteers from social media channels based on relationships we’ve built through public conversations.

NC: Given that many people running for Congress are not from new media backgrounds, do you feel there are any unique challenges you’ve run into as a social media candidate? Do you feel there are any different expectations or standards?
AH: There is always a challenge when you try to do things in a more transparent manner. I like to talk about issues, and that opens me up for attack. When you have ongoing conversations about difficult issues, especially in a political environment, you’re going to find people who don’t want to have a conversation but rather want to find something to disagree with. I think being so open on social media channels is going to give traditional mudslingers more to work with against me.

NC: Do you ever worry about the fact that everything you say is recorded online, and might come back to you one day?
AH: Sure I do! However, I’m not just fighting to win an election, I’m fighting to change the “gotcha” culture of American politics. If I can build a large base of people who know and trust me, as I have in my personal life, it will protect and encourage others who also want to change the nature of American politics. I believe we can do this, even if I have to take some painful hits as one of the pioneers.

NC: Has the use of social media tools helped your campaign? How?
AH: Most definitely. Being an early adopter of these tools has helped me create a niche in the Gov 2.0 community that gives me some national prominence and has generated a lot of press coverage for my campaign. It’s also helpful to be out and active in social media because I’m more ready for tough questions when I encounter them out on the trail. In addition to the aforementioned volunteers from social media, I’ve also been asked questions on Facebook and Twitter that then come up in other forums. I’d say it’s made me a much more prepared candidate.

NC: Have you tried convincing your peers in the political realm to use social media tools to engage with citizens and voters? What has been the response?
AH: Well, Nisha, there is no problem getting politicians to use social media to try to raise money or get volunteers. I’m much more interested in encouraging Web 2.0 adoption for governance, and that push has to come from the citizens for elected officials to see its value. That’s why I and some friends recently put on a “Citizen 2.0” training, working to get people more involved in pushing for these tools to make government more effective and responsive. Back to the politics for a second, I did start Twitter accounts for some of my opponents, linking to their bios and asking them to contact me if they wanted to use them. State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier and independent candidate Gino VanGundy took me up on it and are using their accounts a bit.
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Adriel Hampton is a journalist, Gov 2.0 and new media strategist, public servant, and licensed private investigator. He is running for U.S. Congress in the 2009 special election for California’s 10th District. Follow him on Twitter at @adrielhampton or @adriel4congress.

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Why Congress NEEDS to be tweeting

April 29, 2009

claire-mccaskill-twitterA few months back I started writing a post questioning whether members of Congress really need to be Tweeting. Especially if their Tweets are particularly snarky. That post, like about 75% of the posts I start writing, never saw the light of day because I never completed that idea.

But then last week Matt Bai of the New York Times slammed politicians who use Twitter, most notably Senator Claire McCaskill. “The capital might be a better place if it became a Twitter-free zone,” Bai wrote, “a city where people spent more time talking to the guy serving the coffee and less time informing the world that the coffee had, in fact, been served.”

Then Senator McCaskill responded on her Tumblr blog (really, she has a Tumblr, which is worth noting in and of itself): “I tweet an average of 4 to 5 times a day.  This has become a welcome discipline for me in Washington. As I am walking to a hearing, or riding the tram over for a vote, I think of what I want to tell the folks at home about my work or life. This, I believe, is a fairly decent way to stay connected. After all, I’m in Washington to work for them and this process reminds me of it several times a day.

Senator McCaskill was also on a panel last week at the Politics Online conference in Washington, which I was fortunate enough to attend (thanks to the wonderful Julie Germany). On the panel, she and three other Members of Congress discussed how they use Twitter to stay connected with their constituents. All of them manage their own Twitter accounts and love the direct connection it gives them to the people — without reporters or communications staff in between them. All of them also read all their replies – they may not have time to respond to everything, but they read them, and it gives them an important window into the minds of their constituents, allowing them to know what the people are thinking.

The Members of Congress on the panel also talked about the frustrations they have run into sometimes in dealing with the other hundreds of Members of Congress who are not using Twitter and other new media tools to communicate with their constituents. Most elected officials haven’t gotten on the new media train yet. Most of them still don’t see the value in it. It’s not unlike the general population really — most normal people still don’t get the value of Twitter, either.

Bai also complains about other politicians, like Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA, who recently tweeted:

craig-fugate-twitter

To which Bai responded in his article: “Which kind of makes you wonder: if the head of FEMA feels that disoriented buying a latte near the White House, what’s going to happen during a tornado?”

But Bai, and the other old media types like him who won’t stop complaining about how Washington is all a-twitter, don’t really get it. Elected officials may be elected officials, but they’re human beings too – and were chosen by the people to run our government. That doesn’t make them any less human, and the beauty of new media is that you get unfiltered access to these politicians and get to feel more connected to them. They step out from behind the curtain of press secretaries and communications staff and mainstream media and give you direct, unfiltered access to them.

So what if the head of FEMA had a stressful morning? Being the head of FEMA doesn’t mean you don’t experience the same normal moments that average people experience, or that you’re any less human than them. Hiding those moments behind a curtain isn’t productive, nor does it give people any more confidence that you can do your job better when there’s a tornado. And anyone who expects politicians to operate with secrecy rather than transparency is suggesting something ridiculous, as Bai does.

But politicians using Twitter are informing their constituents of what they’re doing in Congress (and why), provoking policy discussions, and most importantly, listening to what their constituents are saying and using that feedback as they continue their work in Congress. I’d say that’s a pretty good case for why every member of Congress should be getting on the new media train.

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