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Social Networking Key to Brown’s Success

The inside story of how tea party twitterers, Facebook friends, and Blogspot buddies helped win the race for Scott Brown.

Sissy Willis


January 20, 2010 - 11:49 am
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You were able to spread the word almost instantaneously from your own followers to your followers’ followers — a smart mob self-organizing to pursue a shared goal. Driven by a visceral fear that the lights were about to go out on the shining city upon a hill, thousands of believers in American exceptionalism began to apply the online social-networking skills they had developed as amateurs in the virtual struggle.

Starting December 9, the day after Scott Brown’s primary victory, bloggers like myself and Cornell Prof. William A. Jacobson of Legal Insurrection took Bill Kristol’s idea to make Scott Brown’s race a “referendum on Obamacare” and ran with it. We both communicated directly with the campaign through Facebook and Twitter. We burst out of our virtual worlds from time to time to help get out the vote by phone banking at regional offices. At campaign headquarters in Needham one day, Jacobson was actually kicked off the phone because he was spending too much time on Twitter! Blogging and twittering our on-the-ground experiences, from phone banking to informal exit polling, fired up our readers — from Massachusetts and around the country and beyond — to contribute and volunteer.

The campaign itself was totally social-networking savvy. As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote, Brown “used Internet fundraising to put the fear of God into” the old boy network. If you were from out of state or unable to come in to one of the regional offices to phone bank, they had the technology to allow you to make calls from home.

Like-minded big-time bloggers like Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit and Michelle Malkin showered Prof. Jacobson, myself, and others with links. The message had gone viral, and the comments and tweets poured in, a groundswell of tea party fever that would bring in dollars and volunteer time to get out the vote and help sweep our long-shot candidate to an astonishing 52-to-47 percent victory. One in five Democrats supported Brown, “who benefited from high suburban turnout,” according to a Rasmussen Reports poll, enough of an edge so the Beacon Hill machine couldn’t cheat.

“Winning is fun,” fellow blogger-in-arms Dan Riehl of Riehl World View twittered on victory night, and the “beauty of New Media is getting local perspective.” Indeed, the ability of bloggers like Prof. Jacobson and others to use social-networking tools to share our experiences instantaneously with tea party sympathizers across the country is akin, perhaps, to the way Radio Free Europe was once used to give hope to oppressed peoples behind the Iron Curtain.

No longer dependent upon legacy media to tell our story, we are able — in Prof. Reynolds’s formulation — to disintermediate the old boy networks via the internet.

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Sissy Willis is a Tea Party Fever sufferer who blogs and twitters behind enemy lines in Taxachusetts.
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