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).

Sarah PalinSarah PalinSince 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.

 Top Ten Twitter Topics for the Week according to 'What The Trend'Top Ten Twitter Topics for the Week according to 'What The Trend'

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.

Tom TancredoTom TancredoThis 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!

Dave Horsey CartoonDave Horsey Cartoon
Feb 6, 2010
by Anonymous

Funny, but true

How many conservatives does it take to screw in a light bulb?

None. Conservatives only screw poor people.

Feb 6, 2010
by Anonymous


It's working out OK. The person that got out there and campaigned won. Good lesson.

How's 2008 working out for ya?? You don't seemed to have learned even a little bit.

Feb 6, 2010
by Anonymous

Two points

First, the fact that it is a loosely-organized grassroots movement is what makes it so powerful. You aren't going to find 7 million people mindlessly following one person (i.e. Obama on Facebook). We're local, we're connected to each other obliquely, and we're pissed.

Secondly, you obviously don't tweet with the right (hah!) people. The twitterverse is replete with like-minded, intelligent fiscal conservatives. Do they have differing opinions on abortion, stem-cell research, religion, and Sarah Palin? Of course. But the main tenets holding the movement together -- a smaller Constitutional government, fiscal responsibility, and free markets -- are what bind us. It's what makes it a truly populist movement, and it's what's going to (not pull, but) JERK the country back to the right, closer to the vision held by the Founding Fathers.

~Matt Dycus

Feb 7, 2010
by Anonymous

To those in support of the tea party movement

Brothers and sisters of the tea party movement,

If you listened to Sarah Palin's speech at the tea party you will have heard her request that we honor the good, kind people who are the core beginnings of this movement and model our actions and responses after them.

We cannot be different if we fall into the trap of the other parties. Let us use our words in support of the powerful common sense ideas, working together and avoiding these horrible confrontations where we lower ourselves to name calling and attacks. This movement is about rising above all of that, honoring the premises on which this country was founded and doing things differently. What we have had for years does not work. A system in which the goverment does not listen to the will of the people and where people are too busy hating people with different ideas to try to come up with solutions to help us all.

Use your words to uplift the ideals of the party not to dismiss, violate or humiliate any one else. This is what a true Tea Party supporter must do to honor the purpose of this revolution. Continue to pray for our President, our congress and our men and women in uniform. Use your freedom of speech with responsibility, thoughtfulness and grace for others. God bless every reader whether they are Democrat, Republican, or a Tea Party member.

Feb 7, 2010
by Anonymous

We are not leaderless - we are decentralized

i am amazed @ the number of people who aren't in the TeaParty who are so quick to decide that *I* need a leader - I, and my group, don't need a leader telling us what to do - we do great within our community - and, starting locally, we can effect change nationally. In my opinion, if someone manages to take over as the leader, or the leading group, (although I don't know how they would, since we are all so independent minded...) it will be the death of this movement - perhaps those in the media know this, and that's why they keep insisting that we must have a leader.

Feb 7, 2010
by Anonymous

This has been a long time brewin'

Pres Bush started the outrage with his out of control spending - if he had not gotten this ball rolling, you wouldn't have had people poised to react so quickly. I think most people, even if they voted against Pres Obama, were hopeful that he was truthful in his desires for a more transparent government and to work with both parties. Unfortunately, he showed very quickly that was not to be the case. This movement is not about Pres Obama - he just happens to be the sitting Pres when it has reached it's boiling point.

Feb 7, 2010
by Anonymous

Tea Partier Demographics

One possible reason that social networking is not an integral part of the tea party movement could be demographics. Al least so far, the tea party movement is largely restricted to white, middle-aged, non-college educated citizens. These folks are among the least likely to use social networking tools.

If this movement can extend its appeal to a broader cross section of the population - particulary seniors, the young, college graduates, and minorities - its likely that social networking use in this movement would increase significantly.

Feb 8, 2010
by Anonymous

woke up

when the Japanese attacked pearl harbor they knew they had just woke up a sleeping giant. obama has woke up that giant again. although still groggy and just starting to feel it's way around is still looking for the light switch. these people don't know that a giant has finally woke up. i suggest we let them stay that way. let them figure out AMERICA is because of the people not the government at the voting booth.

Feb 8, 2010
by Anonymous

we can add numbers...

and your IQ is - 50!

Feb 10, 2010
by Anonymous

Teabaggers make me sick

You're being supported by astro-turfing Washington Neo-cons and you can't see it because all you care about is keeping everything for yourselves. Do me a favor, if you hate socialism so much, quit using our clean air act, quit using our roads, quit using our farming subsidies, stop your children from going to our schools, wither, die, and repeat.

"What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label "Liberal?" If by "Liberal" they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar, then ... we are not that kind of "Liberal." But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal." [J.F.K. September 14, 1960]"