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MoveOn Launches Virtual Picket Line on Senators' Facebook Walls

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, July 24 2009

There's something interesting going on over on Senator Arlen Specter's Facebook wall. Hundreds of people--many, if not all of them, constituents of the Pennsylvania Democrat (who was not long ago a Republican)--are posting short messages urging him to defend the Clean Air Act, which has been weakened in the House version of President Obama's pending climate legislation. Same with Senator Dianne Feinstein's and Facebook walls. A kind of digital picket line has formed, with a steady beat of posts appearing from the Senator's fans online.

This wave of postings isn't happening spontaneously; it's the product of a new lobbying campaign by liberal online giant MoveOn.org. After polling its members on whether it should tackle the Clean Air issue, the group recently started sending out alerts to its members titled, "Are you on Facebook? Take action." Here's how it reads:

Dear MoveOn member,

Are you on Facebook? Well, Senator Dianne Feinstein is. And it's a great way to ask her to save the Clean Air Act.

The House energy bill would repeal a key section of the Clean Air Act. A few senators are speaking out for the Clean Air Act, but we'll need many more.

Can you use Facebook to ask Sen. Feinstein to save the Clean Air Act?

Facebook wall:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dianne-Feinstein/6314129300?v=wall

Become a fan, then write on her wall.

Then, please let us know you did by clicking here:

http://pol.moveon.org/call?tg=FSCA_1&cp_id=1021&rc=fb&id=&t=1

Since it's a new form of communication, senators are paying extra attention to what voters say on their Facebook walls and Twitter feeds. If you're not on, it's easy to join.

The rest of the email offers a few pithy reasons for MoveOn's campaign, along with footnotes linking to relevant sources, followed by the group's trademark signoff, "Thanks for all you do."

MoveOn also adds two interesting PSes, urging respondents to become a fan of the group on Facebook and to follow it on Twitter. The group is pretty new to these online platforms (it has 66,000 fans on Facebook, a fraction of its 5 million membership), but it's worth noting that this online campaign has certainly earned MoveOn some modest dividends, growing its Twitter follower base by more than 10% since July 21st.

It's difficult to say what the impact of these Facebook campaigns will have on the politicians MoveOn is targeting. But the larger impact may be a social one. Each time a MoveOn member posts a lobbying message on Senator Specter or Senator Feinstein's wall, that member's personal social network on Facebook sees an update in their newsfeed. So if hundreds of people are writing to these Senators in each state, most likely tens of thousands of their friends/colleagues/relatives/coworkers etc are hearing about it. That makes it even more likely that the issue at hand will arise in other settings where each Senator may meet with their constituents.

And that raises one additional point about the value of MoveOn's campaign. Lots of the people posting on each Senator's wall are clearly identifying themselves as local constituents. And no matter where the message comes from, politicians are uniquely attuned to listening to their own voters. So, the more these politicians try to use their Facebook sites as vehicles for broadcasting their own messages--the more these kinds of virtual picket lines will gain in salience, too. Will the Senators come out and shake some hands?