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How Twitter has changed local politics

As social media becomes more pervasive, local officials have seen their constituents use social networking sites as tools for community building and political discourse. 

By Steph Solis / May 15, 2013

Newark Mayor Cory Booker has used his Twitter account to connect with his constituents on pertinent issues. Many of them have used social media to engage in political discourse or campaign for community action.

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Lynette Barnes, a southern New Jersey native, was initially hesitant about moving up to Newark for a job. It’s not unusual for those who are familiar with the city’s crime rate. 

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In a matter of weeks, though, Ms. Barnes started to look past those first impressions. Newark started to grow on her, from the beauty of Nat Turner Park to the constantly engaged mayor, Cory Booker. Soon, she started looking for ways to get more involved in the community and help improve living conditions in public housing, asking the mayor himself about volunteer opportunities. All it took was a couple of tweets and she was connected with the nonprofit Jersey Cares.

“[His social media presence] honestly makes living in the city easier,” says Barnes. “It definitely has allowed for me, a new resident, to feel more connected.”

Mr. Booker has become a paragon for politicians looking to gain a wider following, yet his exchanges with residents like Barnes manifest a movement that is bigger than him. Every day, Newark residents take to Twitter to express support, complaints, and everything in between, and people in other cities do the same. Within cities, residents have taken advantage of their direct connections to local officials via social media, using Twitter and other networks to spread ideas and build coalitions.

Two months ago, Booker told a crowd at the South by Southwest conference in Austin that politicians, as well as their constituents, have a responsibility to use social media to serve one another and facilitate change in politics, media, and society at large. 

“What I want to see is the soul coming back to our politics,” he said, “the vile and the hatred beginning to drain out, the understanding that we need each other, that America started with the declaration of independence but really the truth of America is really a testimony to a declaration of interdependence, that we rely on each other.”

People within Newark and all over the world tweet at Booker about everything from a broken streetlight to marriage equality. For locals especially, however, it has become an outlet through which people raise awareness about pending legislation, ongoing conflicts, and more. 

Houston Mayor Annise Parker saw local residents and business owners use their online presence to fight increasing parking regulations that were considered in the City Council’s parking ordinance. 

In the months leading up to the council’s vote on a parking ordinance, residents and business owners shared their concerns about increased regulations, leading to a more flexible law catering to each neighborhood. 

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