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March 11, 2017

Why Senator Cory Booker draws inspiration from social media

by John_A

Despite the fact that social media can be pretty terrible (fake news, trolling women and people of color, the list goes on), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) remains a fan. In a wide-ranging talk that kicked off SXSW 2017 yesterday, Senator Booker took time to note that all media can be manipulated and used for good or ill — but said that he’s seen so much potential good come that he hopes activists continue to take advantage of it.

Booker’s discussion with Google’s Malika Saada Saar (senior council on civil and human rights) touched on this theme pretty significantly. Saada noted that social media was both responsible for amplifying movements like Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March, but it also has led to mass harassment and hate in a lot of cases.

For his part, Booker said that “that the power of those platforms is going to be determined by who engages with them and who uses them,” as with all media. But being able to speak directly to an audience is a particularly powerful tool that most politicians didn’t have until recently (something that can be just as much a negative as a positive). But Booker’s still choosing to look on the positive side. “These have been some of the darkest moments of my professional life,” he said, “but there has also been [some of] the most inspiring moments that just lift my spirits — and so much of that is being sourced by our connections on social media.”

Specifically, Booker noted the recent airport protests taking place when Trump’s first immigration ban was announced as something that could have only happened thanks to social media. As for how Booker is using social media, he’s been making video a big priority. He said he often sees a lot more video putting a video on Facebook or Twitter rather than making a speech on the senate floor. “No disrespect to the 14 people who might watch me on CSPAN — and my mom makes 15 — but i think my last video got something like a million views, Booker joked. He has had videos get close to that number of views on his Facebook page, though. “I think this is an essential tool for activists and artists, and its an essential tool to re-stitching our society because I do think we’ve seen a lot of fracturing.”

As an African American, Booker finds particular value in the causes he’s been able to champion through social media. “For African Americans to not feel alone in this world is really powerful,” Booker said, “to let people know that I’m standing with you.” He’s also cognizant of the need to get out of the bubbles we all tend to fall into when consuming media, particularly with the internet making it so easy to ignore other viewpoints.

“When I go home at night and feel like I some spirit, I turn Rachel [Maddow] on because it gets me excited,” he said. “But then I remind myself I need to not just listen to the things that inspire me, I need to turn over to Fox and watch what fellow Americans are consuming.” It’s easier said than done, but it’s the kind of attitude we’d benefit from more politicians having.

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