Social Media Use in the Immigration Reform Movement
After the defeat of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), by David Brat, a little-known economics professor and Tea Party member who vehemently criticized Cantor for his (tepid) support of (some components of) immigration reform, many in Congress suggested that “immigration reform is a death sentence for re-election.” Cantor’s replacement, House Majority Leader-Elect Kevin McCarthy (R, CA), has said that a reform bill should not be discussed until the borders are secure, despite his representing an agricultural district with a 35 percent Latino population.
Against this backdrop, it is impressive that organizations advocating for reform are not relenting. In fact, an email from FWD.us, the Mark Zuckerberg-funded immigration advocacy organization focused on boosting the innovation economy, informed me that June 25 marked the one-year anniversary of the Senate’s passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The FWD.us email also included a link to pledge my participation in their day of action.
“We run paid political ads, we run outreach to members of Congress, we actively utilize social media,” said Kate Hansen, FWD.us’s communications director. “We just hit over half a million supporters on Facebook.” For many immigration reform organizations, the use of digital tools and social media is a powerful complement to more traditional legislative advocacy and grassroots organizing.
Activism is about creating social change, and you have to manifest that through multiple ways - Arturo Carmona, Executive Director, Presente
Multiplatform Approaches and Hybrid Events
Because FWD.us is focused on the tech sector, using social media and online tools is a significant part of the organization’s work. Hansen said one of her favorite FWD.us events was a DREAMer hackathon, where DREAMers teamed up with coding and design mentors from the tech community to develop new reform tools. “One of the winning tools that came out of that event was Push4Reform,” Hansen said. Push4Reform is a Web and mobile app that enables a constituent to look up her representative and senators, find out their stances on immigration reform, and then take a variety of actions, from tweeting or Facebooking them, to calling their office or even mailing a physical letter.
Presente, the largest national Latino online organization advancing social justice with technology, media and culture, also uses a multiplatform approach to their advocacy work.
“Activism is about creating social change, and you have to manifest that through multiple ways,” said Presente Executive Director Arturo Carmona. “That's why we at Presente have a four-track organizing model.” Presente’s model includes mainstream media, traditional on-the-ground strategies with partners, cultural organizing and social media engagement and online organizing. The organization employs one or more of these tracks in all their campaigns.
This year, Presente began the Obama Legacy campaign to call on President Obama to issue an executive order to immediately end all deportations. Visitors to the microsite can share a YouTube video via Twitter, Facebook and email, and they can sign up for text messages and email alerts from the campaign.
Carmona said that most of the time, the most effective work is “good old-fashioned organizing” that includes a combination of on-the-ground advocacy, video, social media and petitioning. But he warned that tools have to be used appropriately. Carmona took online petitioning as an example.
“I would be hesitant to call petition signing alone robust activism,” he said. “But there is no question it is a very powerful tool when used appropriately.” He said if Presente gets 20,000 petitions and sends them to the Latino Legislative Caucus, those will be put on a shelf. But if Presente holds a press conference and mobilizes people to deliver the petitions, then people and the media listen.
Custom-Made Tools and Calls to Action
FWD.us’s custom-made Push4Reform tool not only combines constituent education with calls to action, it also lets users accrue “advocacy points” for each action they take, and different actions are worth a different number of points.
“We wanted to find a way to try to quantify the actions supporters are taking,” Hansen said. “Members of Congress do care very much about what their constituents say to them. So it’s great to tweet to your representative, it’s a little better to Facebook, a little better to call their office, and it’s even more impactful to mail a letter. We weighted [actions] based on what the offices pay attention to.”
America’s Voice has also developed a set of specialized tools that supporters can use to promote immigration reform. “Using our tools, people can easily tweet at their member of Congress or write a letter to their local newspaper,” said Van Le, manager of online content for America’s Voice, by email. “We’ve also created a number of microsites that in different ways creatively illustrate a point — that Americans need immigration reform, and Republicans will suffer a political price if they don’t pass it.”
screenshot from America's Voice microsite thecostofinaction.com
Sharable Social Media for Reform
Pro-reform social media is common on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms. Organizations aim to make evocative video and images that grab viewers’ attention and make them want to share — or retweet, or regram.
“We’ve become really effective in this sphere, I think, because we’ve developed ourselves as a consistent source of timely and important information,” said Le of America’s Voice. The organization regularly posts on Facebook and Twitter. “We also work with GIFs, Vines, Youtube videos…basically whatever we think of that we believe will clearly and effectively communicate our message in a way people will respond to.”
Hanna Siegel, the deputy director of The Partnership for a New American Economy said by email that her organization drives the immigration reform conversation by deploying news articles, report and poll findings, videos, graphics, blog posts, testimonies, tweets and other engaging content across multiple social media platforms.
Siegel said one of The Partnership for a New American Economy’s most successful campaigns was their March for Innovation, or #iMarch, in May 2013.
“[The march] was the largest-ever virtual march on Washington in support of bipartisan immigration reform,” Siegel said. “The two-day event brought together leaders in politics, business, tech, sports, media and entertainment to participate in an array of social media activities — including Twitter chats, Reddit AMAs, Google Hangouts, HuffPost LIVE segments, Facebook Q&As and Livestream sessions — in support of immigration reform.”
#iMarch was the largest political Thunderclap in history, reaching more than 45 million people in an instant, and the event resulted in more than 30,000 tweets, Facebook posts and phone calls to Congress.
In addition to their social media campaigns, The Partnership for a New American Economy also uses more traditional media in creative ways. On April 30, it launched the first in a series of ads calling on Congress to act on immigration reform this year. The ad, about the importance of immigrant inventors, aired not only on television and online but also on Washington, D.C. taxi TVs. In May, the ad played 340,200 times and had 578,340 impressions.
The Persistent Digital Divide
The use of technology and social media in the immigration reform movement has given a voice to many who would otherwise be shut out of the conversation, but persistent disparities in access still impact the work.
“The Digital Divide is very real, and it has a major impact on the Latino community’s ability to access the Internet and other forms of technology,” said Presente’s Carmona. “But our community, as other communities of color are, is extremely resourceful, and they will figure out ways to get around these divides.”
Carmona said he is excited to see great mobile penetration in the Latino community and good trends in media use with Millennials. “Which should show that we desperately need much more investment, specifically in youth and expanding access to technology,” Carmona said. He is impressed by organizations like United We Dream a youth-led immigration reform organization. “They are pretty innovative, but they’ve been under-resourced and over-matched.”