Saturday, May 25, 2013

The revolution is just a tweet away

I originally published this blog in February 2011. In light of my renewed interest in blogging, online marketing and all things digital, I'm giving it a second life.

What if the protesters at Kent State had had Twitter in 1970 … would four students have died? As America enters what could be a new era of civil unrest, I find myself wondering what role social media will play.

For people who haven’t been following events in Wisconsin, the new governor there, Scott Walker, has introduced a budget that he says is necessary to keep the state fiscally afloat. In reality, Walker’s goal is to kill the public sector unions by taking away many of state workers’ collective bargaining rights. Since the budget was introduced on February 11, it has set off a wave of peaceful protests in Madison, the state capital, that has grown day by day, week by week. The crowds that have gathered – sometimes camping overnight – say this is about much more than their health insurance and pensions. They say this fight is over the very future of the American worker.

So what do the protests in Wisconsin have to do with Kent State? Well for one thing, at least one person has called on the government to disperse the crowds with live ammunition. That man, Jeffrey Cox, the deputy attorney general of Indiana, posted the comment as a tweet on his Twitter account. He has since been fired for his remarks, but imagine if things had gone differently … what if his comment had kindled anti-union sentiment among members of the Wisconsin government? People are bringing their families to these protests. Can you imagine the chaos if National Guard soldiers began firing indiscriminately on the protesters? It makes comparisons between Madison and Kent State downright scary.

Of course Cox isn’t the only one using Twitter to comment on the Wisconsin protests. Just a quick search shows a handful of Twitter feeds devoted to the subject (@tlists1/wisconsin-labor-protests
claims to be the most listed tweeters about Wisconsin Labor Protests). Ranging from discussions of the governor admitting his anti-union agenda and thoughts of planting troublemakers in the crowd during a prank call to evidence of similar budgets in other states falling by the wayside the Twittersphere is abuzz with news from the protests and the ripple effect they’re having across the country.

Cox’s firing doesn’t solve anything with this budget crisis. And all the tweets in the world may not be enough to embarrass the governor into backing down on his union-busting budget. But it does highlight the power of social media to affect political discourse. If Americans think only people in Mideastern countries can harness the power of social media to bring about change, Wisconsin might just be a wake-up call.

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