In recent years, we’ve heard a great deal about the impact of new social media on politics. We’ve been told that social media is bringing people together in networks that are then able to accomplish feats of political activism that would otherwise be impossible.
Such assertions turn out to be half true when it comes to a piece of political organization on Twitter to place pressure Senator Claire McCaskill. An online petition created on Act.ly urged Senator McCaskill to support S. 3065, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, legislation that included a repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell requires the U.S. military to discriminate against gays and lesbians, firing them regardless of the quality of their work.
The petition read:
“Senator Claire McCaskill: We call on you to co-sponsor the ‘Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010,’ the Senate bill co-sponsored by Armed Services Committee Chair Sen. Carl Levin that would repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — the critical legislative body that will determine the fate of repealing DADT — your co-sponsorhip is crucial to this bill’s final passage.”
1,371 Twitter users signed the petition. Claire McCaskill’s staff was notified of the petition through the senator’s official Twitter account. Then… Senator McCaskill completely ignored the petition. McCaskill declined to co-sponsor the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. She didn’t even write the petition’s organizers a message of explanation.
Whether this episode represents a failure of social media or a failure of Claire McCaskill depends upon your perspective.