Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the left-wing freshman congresswoman from the Bronx, has been in DC less than a month, but she's already one of the most talked-about legislators on Capitol Hill thanks to her outspokenness, her willingness to give voice to progressive policy ideas, and her almost supernatural ability to end up at the center of viral moments. Her Democratic colleagues aren't necessarily down with the progressive agenda part, but they are looking to her to teach them about social media, reports USA Today:
The House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee is hosting a session Thursday morning with Ocasio-Cortez of New York (@AOC – 2.42 million followers) and Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut (@jahimes – 76,500 followers) "on the most effective ways to engage constituents on Twitter and the importance of digital storytelling."
The lesson comes as a generational divide between members of Congress and the tech platforms they oversee has been on full display.
Hearings with the heads of Facebook and Google over the past year showed that some lawmakers didn't understand how the platforms made money – or even what they did.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers tend to be utter snoozefests on social media, where what shares well is some combination of raw emotion, snark, and in-jokes—none of which comes easily for career politicians. Though this new Congress is relatively young, with an average age of 47, legislators are usually older than most social media natives and generally averse to making controversial statements. That leads many of them to use social media as an extension of their old-school communications operations, with extremely boring results. Here's a random smattering of tweets, some likely written by congressional staffers:
Ocasio-Cortez isn't the first lawmaker to try something new on Twitter. California Democrats Ted Lieu and Maxine Waters have earned attention and followers with their Resistance-friendly anti-Trump tweets. Congressman Himes—who is teaching that seminar with Ocasio-Cortez—mixes anger at the president and policy positions with the occasional update on how he's about to get fucked up. And Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, well, at least his staff obviously doesn't write his tweets:
But what sets Ocasio-Cortez apart—besides her massive following—is that she uses social media like someone who sees it as an extension of her personality, not another chute to blast press releases out of. She'll celebrate accomplishments and make her positions clear, but she's also used Twitter to say that all the attention she's gotten is "stressful & scary."
Himes told USA Today that people want politicians on Twitter to start "calling it like it is" and "opening the kimono on personal details." They want leaders to use these platforms to reveal more than they would through the traditional staged campaign videos and stump speeches. Somewhat ironically, when Democrats have used Instagram to show off their personal lives they've been accused of copying Ocasio-Cortez, but if they aren't going to inject some personality into their social media feeds, what's the point of tweeting at all?
Once Democrats get the hang of using memes, maybe they can think about putting their newfound social media literacy towards tackling the monopolistic powers of tech giants who run the top social sites. But first thing's first: Let's try to explain "choke me daddy" to a 70-year-old congressman.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.