Tea Party Movement Does Not Move Social Media
There is a strange phenomenon afoot in this country. The rumblings of an establishment of a "Tea Party" party can be heard growing louder and louder. The National Tea Party, a first-time convention for the group has attracted 1,100 delegates to Nashville, Tennessee for three days of protest, caucus and debate. It's a movement everyone says is people-powered to give voice to the frustrations of a heretofore leaderless party. With all this talk channeling through the traditional news vehicles of legacy newspapers and TV, why hasn't this group chosen to be represented on social networks?
For such a large event that draws on people who like to hear the sound of their own voice, one would think they would have a significant presence on Twitter and Facebook. If they are going to proselytize others to join their movement, social networking would seem like the logical distribution channel to amplify their message. Yet when I searched for their presence, my cursory research only surfaced this "Tea Party News" account with just 2122 followers worldwide.
Their limited number of followers is not because they don't have a lot to tweet about. Note that this account has sent out 300,438 tweets as of the time of this posting. That's a lot of yakking to such a small nucleus of folks. ( UPDATE: There are apparently more Tea Party accounts on Twitter, but no collective voice under one banner).
Since the convention is a three-day affair and is culminating with a keynote address by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin on February 6, one would think it would have been a 'trending' topic on Twitter. However over the course of this time-frame, it has not appeared.
In fact, I just checked the hashtag #teaparty before writing this post, and was surprised to see only a few tweets trickling in and none that talked about the Nashville convention?
When checking on the Top Ten Twitter trends for the week on 'What The Trend' again neither Tea Party nor Sarah Palin caused enough of a stir to make the list.
Noteworthy, the "Teabagging for Jesus" tweet (above) refers to another splinter group made up of the "Birthers," the "Deathers," and the "Deniers" who have embraced the extremist religious right agenda. And according to a Perrspectives report, "they are Tea Bagging for Jesus and they are in your face about it." Bearing in mind the sexual connotation of "teabagging" this seems like an odd choice of words to describe a serious movement. Upon further research, satirists have even developed a Web site in its name. But even those folks have given up hitting on the easy target. They have not updated the site since May 20, 2009.
On Facebook, there is a little more involvement. However, there appears to be to no concerted effort to draw people in under one big tent - just a lot of factions vying for the spotlight. The "American Tea Party" with over 14,000 members, according to its profile information covers "the new American Revolution" and is "sponsored by Pajamas TV" (which is somewhat suspect).
Then there are the "Tea Party Patriots" which has signed up an impressive 66,000+ followers but talks about having mobilized over 1.2 million people on April 15, 2009 to spread their word over 50 states. However if that be the case, why haven't that million been encouraged to register with this group on Facebook?
One emerging set of principles that could align tea party groups is taking shape on the Tea Party Patriots' Web site, where registered members can contribute to something that might resemble a platform.
"Note - it is called the Contract From America, not the Contract With America," said William Temple, who runs a tea party group in Brunswick, Ga. "We are the ones giving the direction."
The convention, according to a Washington Post report in some respects has had the feel of a big blind date. The delegates chatted each other up for a year online, checking out each other's ideas and grievances, and they thought they might have something in common. Now they are spending a couple of days together, at a very nice resort, nibbling hibachi beef and browsing elegant "tea bag" jewelry, to see whether they like each other enough to be together.
Headless and leaderless, these tea party groups are not an organized political movement so much as they are a collection of people who generally agree on one key point: that President Obama and the Democrats who control Congress are assaulting their civil liberties and leading them down the wrong path.
Unfortunately, much of what is being said and promoted appears to be scare tactics to gain attention and attract more followers. This could possibly be the reason why they haven't been successful with the social networks. While the 'wisdom of crowds' is sometimes discounted as "group think," it is a very democratic arena to take a pulse on what the majority of folks are thinking and feeling at any point in time. However when your voice is not being 'retweeted' by others to any great degree, one has to wonder about the legitimacy of the voice.
This was clearly evident when the National Tea Party chose a former US representative of Colorado to open up their convention. Tom Tancredo who ran for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination as an anti-immigration candidate, railed against Obama and "the cult of multiculturalism." Americans could be "boiled to death in a cauldron of the nanny state," he said. "People who couldn't even spell the word 'vote,' or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House."
When Tancredo said, "His name is Barack Hussein Obama," the audience booed loudly.
"The race for America is on," Tancredo said. "The president and his left-wing allies in Congress are going to look at every opportunity to destroy the Constitution before we have a chance to save it. So put your running shoes on."
If people behind these fractionalized Tea Party groups ever assemble in mass, they are going to need a lot more than running shoes and scare tactics to get their message across to mainstream. They are going need a concerted effort vis a vis social networks that amplify and strengthen their message into one collective voice. Right now, all they have is a Tower of Babel, with a lot of nervous mice in a maze running hither and fro, speaking in tongues that don't make a lot of sense.
I waited for 50 comments to be posted before I weighed back in here. I probably could now write a follow-up article based on all the input provided in the COMMENT SECTION below - and for that - I say thank you. My intention in writing this post was not to belittle the movement, even though there is plenty of fodder and easy pickin's to do so. My attention was focused on analyzing why a new movement would not choose some 21st Century tools to build their base and their communication within that base. While some think the various "Tea Party" factions and diverse voices are necessary to allow for an evolution of thought - I see greater opportunity in gaining traction and credibility if you channel your resources and bring the fold in under one tent. Some might call this a "circus" - others might see it as controlled chaos. I favor the latter - and so did my kids every time we visited the Big Top when they were growing up.
Once again, thanks for the input, the feedback and the discourse - I think it is healthy as long as we all check our emotions at the door. Name-calling and petty bickering does not further a debate - it only builds fences.
Keep up the healthy dialogue!