Facebook was home to Congress at noon on Wednesday, January 5th, for the swearing in of the 112th session. A tab on the Republicans’ “Pledge to America” Facebook page hosted an embedded video player provided by Livestream. It showed that Congress still can’t seem to run on time — by the time the clock ran out, more than 25 members were yet to vote.
At 12:33 p.m., it was announced that 434 members had recorded their votes. After a few technical difficulties, Facebook and Livestream users were finally given sound, but by that time most users, like me, were probably watching television.
The real excitement began after Boehner and Nancy Pelosi were nominated, when Blue Dog Democrats began casting votes for a slew of minor candidates — perhaps fearing 2012 commercials tying them to Pelosi.
At 1:37 p.m., Boehner was pronounced the winner of the election, receiving the gavel from Minority Leader Pelosi at 2:03 p.m. The new speaker was sworn in at 2:17 p.m.
But the digitization this event — however unprecedented — was less than revolutionary.
First, CSPAN already has a channel on Livestream. It hovers around 300 viewers, only one-millionth of our population. It’s worth noting that Boehner’s team elected out of the default option on Livesteam that would have allowed the public to view the number of live viewers. This begs the question: Why didn’t they partner with YouTube for this historic event? Or Ustream, which has a larger audience? Qik could have also paved the way, broadcasting via mobile. Users were met by the message “Live Stream Box configuration error” before Boehner received the gavel.
Second, the Twitter audience was not only far ahead of the Facebook live event commenters, but at first the Facebook audience missed that some members of Congress were voting for candidates other than Boehner and Pelosi.
Technological and social considerations will play an ever more meaningful role for political digital strategists as we continue to push the envelope in a field resistant to change. Presence on social platforms and interactions with 2.0 technologies will have to have higher benchmarks. There’s still a lot of firsts to be achieved, but no longer will they possess the same pizzazz.
Yesterday’s Facebook experiment proves that usage and practice matter more than ever. If you went to the Facebook page during yesterday’s vote, as directed by all the free media tripping over the words “Facebook” and “Congress,” you would not have been directed to the Livestream. To find the Livestream, you had to locate the tab in the navigation, which the team moved, during the cast, to a more prominent position. The tab was constructed by a free application maker from a service called appbistro. Ironically enough, the application actually belonged to Rep. Bill Shuster, a Republican from Pennslyvania’s ninth congressional district.
I applaud the efforts of Nick Schaper, Boehner’s director of new media, and Don Seymour, who first proposed the idea to the team. I suspect we’ll see even better things over this next session of Congress.
Ali A. Akbar is a Republican political online communications strategist and formerly President of Republic Modern Media. An activist and veteran operative in the field with roles in notable insurgent campaigns, Akbar is a key voice on the tea party, new technologies, and web design and development.