You may like Gov. Dannel Malloy but have you “liked” him? Maybe you went out to the East Haven town green to hear Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro speak, but do you “follow” her?
Social media has increasingly become a part of the United States’ political fabric, to such an extent that politicians who do not embrace it “do so at their own peril,” according to Richard Hanley, professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University.
To "like" someone on Facebook means to get their account updates on your account's newsfeed, and to "follow" someone on Twitter means to receive their updates or tweets on your Twitter homepage.
“Many political observers see social media holding the same impact in politics as TV did in the 1950s because of the reach it has,” said Hanley.
Television does not have the same “amplifying effect” that social media has, namely, giving your constituents the ability to repost and retweet ideas, videos, articles – anything that can be posted or tweeted about with a Facebook profile or a Twitter account, said Hanley.
And these posts and tweets can be made at any time and at any place where there is an Internet connection.
“Facebook and Twitter are plugged into the moment, so politicians’ reactions can be distributed several times a day, as events warrant,” said Hanley.
The rapid-fire unfurling of information that social media outlets offer has prompted about 90 percent of Congress to create a Facebook page over the last two years, according to a congressional aide for a Connecticut legislator, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The congressional aide said members of congress who decide to use Facebook are required to have two separate profile pages: one for all campaign-related activity and one for all that being a politician entails, i.e., posting press releases, updates from the road and videos of speeches.
A member of Congress can be speaking on the floor and minutes later a YouTube video of the speech can be posted on his or her Facebook page, said the aide, who manages her congressperson’s Facebook site with a colleague. Other members of Congress have hired social media specialists to head their Facebook pages, the aide said.
A 'Studied Informality'
“It’s in the candidate’s best interest to be shown as casual, but there’s great intent to that,” said Hanley. “Visuals (e.g., a Facebook profile photo) are there to promote an image of the candidate, as a way to soften the presentation.”
Many politicians have photos of themselves with their children featured on their Facebook pages, said Hanley. A couple of these local politicians include Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and state Rep. Vincent Candelora (see attached art).
“It’s a casual media, not a lecture hall,” said Hanley, adding that the average politician’s Facebook profile picture “mirrors the typical warm and fuzzy TV ad.”
Hanley calls it a “studied formality” to tug at the heartstrings of constituents.
Candelora said he uses his Facebook account for both personal and political reasons and – unlike the aide’s Congressperson – updates his own page.
“It’s important for people to see me as a person, not just a public official,” said Candelora, who represents East Haven, North Branford and Wallingford. “I usually post once a week; typically, I’ll post things going on in my personal life.”
For example, back in August 2010, now-governor Malloy called Candelora’s home and asked for him. However, Candelora was out and his wife would not give up his cell phone digits. So, Candelora quipped about the affair in a Facebook status update.
A Cautionary Tale
Milford State Rep. Kim Rose’s Facebook story is one about reluctant necessity.
Back in late January, Rose received a phone call from a friend asking if Rose had messaged her on Facebook chat. Rose had not. Confused, Rose searched her name on Facebook and discovered two pages which duplicated her original profile page.
Someone had copied and pasted Rose’s photos and information into the fake account and was soliciting cash from her Facebook friends through Facebook chat.
The “hacker” was asking if he could put her friends down for a poverty grant of $650 and in return he would send them $30,000 worth of grant money, according to Rose. Only one person actually sent in the $650 before Rose caught on to the fake accounts. The perpetrator has not yet been caught, said Rose.
“This is really an innovative way to communicate but there’s no security,” said Rose. “If I wasn’t on this every day, I wouldn’t have known of it.”
Rose said she plans to continue to use Facebook to reach out to her supporters.
“What are you going to do?” she said. “You have to live with it.”