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For Obamacare Supporters on Social Media, Success Stories Outweigh Website Glitches

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, November 19 2013

While new polling suggests President Obama is at the lowest popularity rating of his presidency due to the problems with the healthcare program roll-out and media attention has focused on the website's flaws, a group of grassroots supporters of the healthcare law are determined to spread Obamacare sign-up "success stories" through social media.

Since it began toward the end of October, the Facebook page ACA "Obamacare" Signup Success Stories has received nearly 3,000 likes. In a Facebook conversation, the team behind the page described how they collaborated to promote the page's message and are at a height of activity even though they have never met in person.

Rob Miller, who has a background in film and theater and lives in Los Angeles, first started the page. In the past, he said, he had been "tangentially politically active" during the unemployment phases of his freelance career. The end of his job at the beginning of November "allowed me the chance to hang out on and [discover] how sweet my new insurance would be....i just wanted to tell SOMEbody!"

Initially, he was only able to get a handful of his "real life" friends to like the page. Two other online progressive activists, Pamela John, a legal researcher and cultural anthropologist from Montana, and Bruce Bacon, an information technologist and technical writer from Idaho, found his page as they contemplated starting one of their own after John had posted her own "success story," John said. "I felt that the stories need to be told, and if Pamela has a successful story, then many, many other people must have their stories as well," Bacon said. Both John and Bacon said they had previously been politically engaged mainly on social media. Benjamin Feinblum, an entrepreneur and entertainer from Washington D.C., and writer for Policymic, joined the team through the Armed Democrats Facebook page. Feinblum said he had also previously volunteered at the national headquarters of the Kerry campaign.

"I wanted a place to tell MY story, and had never made or managed a Facebook group before," Miller wrote. "I wanted to show how different my experience with signing up for ACA was from the media 'nightmare' we'd been reading about. I was surprised to find that there was no group for signup success, so I started one."

Feinblum, who said he has been involved with multiple Facebook groups, helped spread the page through those groups and those of his friends. Once other sites began sharing the page, "success stories began to pour in every 20 minutes or so," Feinblum said, adding that the insights show the page has reached an audience of just under 200,000 people in a week. Supporters can post their stories directly on the page.

"We take the concise posts which are most informational, and we use them to create memes which we post directly to our page, and then link to Twitter and Pinterest," John said, such as the post by a divorced woman raising three children without child support whose 21-year old daughter received a cervical cancer diagnosis by getting a screening that was covered due to the healthcare law. "I would say that they are coming in now, faster than I've been able to keep up. I have a wait list of posts that I'm working on at present."

The group moderating the page has grown to about ten, including the core members, with another focused on graphics and another who is an expert in Medicare regulations and read the healthcare law.

While the team members strongly support the health care law, they consider the page nonpartisan and beyond the negativity of the political debates. "I think it's important to note our posts do not only come from Dems/Liberals/Progressives. They come from PEOPLE," John said.

"[People] talk about [the technical problems]," Feinblum said. "We usually help them find a way around it. They are frustrated, but when they save as much as they do... they explode in excitement when it finally works. We had one guy post who made it through after trying for a day on October 3rd. It frustrates people... but, they say it's worth a few weeks work to get it right because of how much they save ... People comment "I'm going to try that again!!!" And they say, to hell with the problems, this will be a huge deal for my life! And they go for it again."

So far, the effort has run parallel to the activities of the White House, Organizing for America and the Democratic Party, John said. Feinblum added that he had been on OFA's call Monday night and was hoping to "network our way in." OFA pages have been posting their own Obamacare "Thank You" messages.

So far, team members said they had only had to deal with a few posts from "trolls."

"I feel as though the early tech problems are effectively the opposition's efforts to repeal the ACA in the court of public opinion. And the media has been, largely, assisting them in that regard," John said.

"We are doing what the President asked us to do. Help people better their lives....We don't care about tech. We don't care about politics. We want to show people that others in their shoes have taken steps and successfully changed the course of their lives in an affordable way," Feinblum said.

Other Facebook pages that have spread the word about the effort, in addition to Armed Democrats, are Witty Liberal, Being Liberal, the Beer Party, Americans Against the Republican Party, I love it when I wake up and Barack Obama is my President, ConScare, Paid Liberal Trolls, Addicting Info and some healthcare related pages and groups such as Uninsured in America, and Healthcare ~ ACA (Obamacare), the team members said. "Other pages are now using us as a main resource. So they come and search for stories and post them now. We can have a post go from 300 views to all the sudden 11,000," Feinblum said.

"I see the pendulum [of media coverage] starting to swing back in the direction of positivity," John said.

"We hope to be the spark... in the tinder... that ignites a blaze," Feinblum said. "Short term, we want to get people talking before Thanksgiving, as many as possible leading up to the announcements when the website is working more smoothly, long-term... for me ... it just feels good to read the stories!...people will be enrolling for a long time, this is a long-term program, so we are here to support for the long-term."

The page echoes earlier efforts such as the I Am Obamacare Tumblr and the Adorable Care Act. The Facebook page has also highlighted a separate effort on Tumblr and Twitter to promote success stories.

Tuesday afternoon, MoveOn sent out an e-mail asking supporters to share their Obamacare stories as part of a "big campaign calling on the media to start giving balanced coverage to the Affordable Care Act."