Do you know the most direct way to reach your Congressman? Hint: It’s not by snail mail, email, or even the phone. According to Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX), it’s through social media—especially Facebook and Twitter.
With government email systems that filter out messages from non-constituents and staffers who vet phone calls to the office, social media networks are the best places for direct, one-to-one connections with your elected officials. This is certainly is the case for Congressman Castro, so much so that he describes social media as placing him in a ‘surround sound’ environment where he can hear from and engage with advocates from all perspectives. In his mind, that’s the biggest way social media has changed advocacy.
“It used to be that if you wanted to get a point across to an elected official—think about 30 or 40 years ago—there were really only a few ways to do it,” said Castro in his interview with MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren at the Good Tech Summit. “You could show up at their office or make an appointment, make a telephone call, or write a letter to the editor and hope that the newspaper would publish it. But there was no Facebook, there was no Twitter—there were only limited ways to communicate directly with an elected official.”
With the rise of Facebook and Twitter, social media has changed advocacy. He said, “There is a lot more interaction now between elected officials and constituents because of the social media platforms.” The best part is, it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop. According to Castro, “This social media age that we’re in is going to continue to grow, and continue to intensify.”
To hear the full conversation about how social media has changed advocacy, including how much time Castro spends on Twitter, and how often he engages in online conversations, click here. Continue reading for excerpts from the interview, edited for concision and flow.
How social media has changed advocacy — “When there’s a big vote…I’ll check social media.”
Greta Van Susteren: Tell me how you can use social media platforms effectively. Tell me the good.
Joaquin Castro: The good is that you can put out a statement of why you support or oppose a piece of legislation, and you can instantly get direct interaction back from people about whether they agree or disagree with you, in what is usually a candid and raw way that people would not use in a face-to-face setting.
I’m sure there’s a block of members of Congress whose staff do all of their social media and probably aren’t looking directly at what’s posted and the responses coming back. But that’s a smaller and smaller share of people. Most members of Congress now look directly at the responses that are coming back from constituents.
When there’s a big vote, and I want to know what my constituents are thinking, we have people who write in on the House system, we get voicemails, so I ask my staff for an assessment of who’s called in for it and who’s called in against it—and then I’ll usually check social media myself.
JC: I think it’s democratized it, it’s allowed more voices to speak up and chime in to their elected officials directly. I think it has closed the barrier—in terms of time and space—with elected officials.
I think overall, it’s been a positive development. If you think of the major American movements over the last several years, both the Tea Party movement and the progressive movement you’re seeing come up. The Tea Party movement was aided very much by technology; in fact, they used Meetup to come together and organize. There were a lot of people who were organizing to express their political opinions and use technology to do that. I see the same thing now with the politics of 2017—people using technology to organize in a very effective way.
GVS: So what’s the solution to false things that go viral?
JC: There’s a debate about how much the social media companies themselves ought to be out there filtering posts and news. And I know that after the election, some of these companies talked about taking action to do some of that.
But I’ve asked people who are not on social media to actually get on social media. And I think Americans, most of all, we have a responsibility to correct information that’s counterfactual, that’s just not true. And I think the more people you have on social media who are able to do that in the comments or otherwise, the better.
GVS: Since I’m big on the First Amendment, and I never want to put any stops on social media if we can avoid it, is the solution to oversaturate with the good?
JC: I think a lot of it is talking about the good in public service in our country, and also realizing that, for all of the negativity on social media, I still think there are larger issues that explain why the parties are so polarized. So I don’t think we should lay it all at the feet of social media.
GVS: There are pockets in our country who don’t have access to social media. What is Congress doing to reach out to those areas?
JC: When my brother, Julián Castro, was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, they took on a really great initiative called ConnectHome, and Google and Comcast were part of it, along with other providers. They went into public housing and started wiring public housing for the Internet, trying to connect the children in public housing to the Internet, so that they could apply for jobs, do their homework—really move them into the digital age. So, that effort is still afoot. But I think that was one of the most promising examples of the government working with the private sector to make an effort to get the Internet to people who don’t have access to it like they should.
Years ago, we undertook a special effort to increase telephone access in rural areas. We should do the same with broadband access.
The next time you want your advocates to reach out to their members of Congress, take full advantage how social media has changed advocacy—this direct, one-to-one line of communication that Facebook and Twitter provide. Click here for more information on a powerful tool that enables you to do that from one central location.
To see the full video, along with as additional interviews, panel discussions, and more from the 2017 Good Tech Summit, click here.