July 30, 2011
When the going gets tough, President Barack Obama's campaign goes to Twitter.
The president's political organization went into overdrive yesterday to mobilize supporters on Twitter Inc. in the wrangling over raising the federal debt ceiling.
With 9.4 million followers, @barackobama, the president's campaign Twitter feed, is the third most followed user on the service, sandwiched between pop music stars Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber and Britney Spears and Katy Perry, according to according to fanpagelist.com.
As the House of Representatives was heading toward a vote yesterday on a Republican plan to raise the debt ceiling that he already had threatened to veto, Obama went before microphones at the White House to urge voters to "let your members of Congress know" how they feel about the debt debate. "Make a phone call. Send an e-mail. Tweet," he said. "Keep the pressure on Washington."
Over the course of the day, Obama's campaign aides avoid real work and opt instead to post more than 100 Twitter messages giving out the Twitter addresses of more than 230 Republican lawmakers and urging followers to contact them in support of legislation from the Democratic- controlled Senate to raise the government's borrowing authority and take a slice out of the deficit.
"Tweet at your Republican legislators and urge them to support a bipartisan compromise to the debt crisis," said one Obama campaign message. "Massachusetts voters: Tweet @USSenScottBrown and ask him to compromise on a balanced deficit solution," said another.
The House bill passed later in the day solely on the basis of Republican support, 218-210. The Senate later killed it, continuing the impasse in the debt-ceiling debate.
While the directives to contact Republican lawmakers came from Obama's campaign Twitter account, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer has been using Twitter for days to engage, debate, and bully lawmakers, pundits and voters on the issue.
Representative Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican and one of the targets of the Twitter campaign, called the move a "silly little gimmick." He said Obama should have spent more time engaging directly with House Republicans and putting deficit-cutting specifics on paper.
"I wish the president would tweet us," Franks said. "He is AWOL in this discussion."
The Obama campaign's Twitter blasts set off a series of retaliatory broadcasts.
'No Ronald Reagan'
"President Obama is no Ronald Reagan," Representative Joe Walsh, an Illinois Republican, said in a Twitter message.
Senator Dan Coats, an Illinois Republican, told his followers in a Twitter message: "Hoosiers: Tweet @BarackObama and ask him what his plan is" other than to cry to voters and bully Republicans on Twitter.
According to Rachael Horwitz, a spokeswoman for the biggest U.S. microblogging service, San Francisco-based Twitter posts about 200 million messages each day and has more than 200 million registered users.
Twitter Inc. was No. 4 in June in the U.S. among social networks, with 30.6 million users, according to ComScore Inc. That was up 14 percent from the previous month and a 31 percent increase from a year earlier, ComScore said.
"What's exciting about Twitter is it's another way to have an ongoing dialogue between many Americans across the country," said Macon Phillips, the administration's director of digital strategy, who manages @WhiteHouse, the official White House Twitter page, which has 2,306,503 followers.
Ronald Yaros, a professor of new media and mobile journalism at the University of Maryland in College Park, said as Twitter becomes a mass medium it could play a significant role in mobilizing voters and that how successful Obama is in using it in the debt ceiling debate will be watched by other campaigns.
For the president's campaign staff and White House advisers, Yaros said, the aim is not only for Obama supporters to mobilize "but that the followers will pass the word and use this as just one stage of the networking process."
"It's a very effective, efficient way to get the word out, and to let the network of existing followers be the disciples for, without waiting for the television camera to turn on," Yaros said.
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