Social media enabled instant organizing for streetcars
The rapid and intense backlash against DC Council Chairman Vincent Gray's cutting streetcar funds was a great victory for transit advocacy, but it was also a great victory for "social media"
It was amazing to see the speed with which the news and calls to action spread, which according to Council officials generated over 1,000 calls to Gray's office within the span of only a few hours, most before the Council even took its vote. It's also interesting to see the way reporters responded to this. Most talked about the effect, but a few mysteriously left social media's role out entirely.
Our report was very quickly picked up and reconfirmed by many other blogs. DCist, We Love DC, Prince of Petworth, Frozen Tropics, The Hill is Home, H Street Great Street, Life in Mount Vernon Square, the Sierra Club's Streetcars4DC, and many more asked people to call Gray's office, in most cases well before the vote.
Twitter, too, lit up with the news. Our first tweet was retweeted with and without modifications numerous times; According to bit.ly's summary, it got 388 clicks and 70 "shares" on Facebook, and 47 retweets, which don't even include the ones using Twitter's "native retweet" functionality. And that was just one tweet from one blog. Here's the one for DCist's first tweet. Dave Stroup, Frozen Tropics, and numerous others kept tweeting developments in the story and snarky jokes about the situation.
The development even drove some people and groups to start using social media. A new Twitter account, DCTransit, appeared yesterday right after the Council vote and started tweeting developments quickly. Lisa Rein from the Post seems to have joined yesterday as well. Social media often grows in spurts around big events; maybe this will drive even more Twitter usage in the DC local news space.
I was somewhat surprised to read today's Loose Lips Daily, however. Someone reading it without knowing about the issue might assume that nothing happened until noon, when the Council took its vote and DC Wire reported the news, even though Monica Norton's DC Wire report did credit the Internet eruption.
Loose Lips Daily writer Jason Cherkis calls "excellent coverage" the final Post article from Tim Craig and Nikita Stewart, which is indeed excellent in its analysis of the political calculations and motivations going on, but the words "blog," "Twitter," and "Internet" appear nowhere in the article, an odd omission given that the Examiner, WBJ, and City Paper (as Housing Complex) talk about the role of social media.
In the past, an activist group like Sierra Club might have sent out an email alert, but most people would have read about the issue in the newspaper the next morning, TV that night, or heard about it on the radio. Some people might have been watching Channel 13. But to generate 1,000 calls to a Council office in a few hours would have been unlikely on such short notice.
This time, Sierra Club still played a huge role, but used blogs and Twitter to magnify it. The public statements of officials still influenced opinions, but were spread rapidly by social media. And new activists, like bloggers and readers of blogs, mobilized in the span of hours in a way that wouldn't have been possible before.
Maybe that'll be the subject of the next article in the Post. Meanwhile, Mr. Cherkis, we encourage you to subscribe to at least a few blogs, like your predecessor did. The day's news is still illuminated very much by the Washington Post, the Examiner, the Business Journal, WTOP, the City Paper and more, but that's not all there is to it.
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