Hashtag for Help
The recent nor’easter that pummeled the eastern seaboard from Atlanta to Maine brought with it many regularities: alert snowplows hitting the streets early, states of emergency being declared by anxious governors, and massive flight cancellations.
It also, less expectantly, has brought a progressive mayor in New Jersey to the social networking site Twitter to respond personally to reports from constituents of unplowed roads and difficulty in accessing vehicles or buildings. And who does the mayor most often send to dig out a car or driveway? Well, himself of course.
Cory Booker, first elected in 2006 with over 75% of the vote to represent Newark, is beloved by progressives in Newark and across the country alike. He has worked miracles in Newark, making significant strides in reducing the homicide rate and increasing affordable housing, all the while slashing the budget deficit by $100 million. He is also renowned for his presence on social media websites, especially Twitter, not only for the personal contact that sets him apart from aloof politicians or staffer-run accounts, but also for the pithy quotations from politicians and literary figures that he shares daily.
The level of attention he has brought to tweeting constituents during this storm, however, is unprecedented. As a self-proclaimed Twitter aficionado and follower of social media, I have never before witnessed this level of public personal contact from a figure of authority, much less one of the most popular mayors in the United States, during a time of crisis. Booker has even been forced to play defense, writing the following tweet after someone apparently skirted his shoveling duties after (profanely?) tweeting for help: Wow u shud b ashamed of yourself. U tweet vulgarities & then I come out here to help & its ur mom & sis digging. Where r u? @rookie2veteran
Although Booker’s actions may seem to some inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, the level of attention and the transparency in communication of his Twitter usage sets a new precedent for elected officials. Furthermore, it dispels, in the most genuine fashion, any claims that he is a detached or unapproachable politician. His actions, therefore, would carry profound implications if replicated by other elected officials nationwide, and may be a promising indication of how social media can benefit everyday life for the average American.
Of course, every American doesn’t have a Twitter. And, after realizing how much of a time sucker the website can be, I wouldn’t recommend that everyone reading this log on and create an account. But the direction we are moving as a country, whether for good or not, is toward a culture dominated by Facebook friend requests, online résumés, and, well, bloggers editorializing the latest news. And when someone as widely-respected as Cory Booker amasses a following of over one million people on a social media website, and uses it to help people affected by a snow storm, the future is suddenly looking particularly bright. Aspiring politicians, take note.
Photo Credit: Cory Booker’s Twitter page