How Twitter — and Rand Paul — Reinvented the Filibuster

Karen Tumulty captured an interesting internet-fueled dynamic around Rand Paul’s Senate filibuster last week:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) created a sensation Wednesday by railing for nearly 13 hours straight in the Senate chamber against the Obama administration’s use of unmanned drones.

The freshman senator lost on the question at hand, as pretty much everyone expected he would. The Senate approved the nomination of John O. Brennan to lead the CIA on Thursday on a vote of 63 to 34.

But Paul’s speech won praise from the civil libertarians on the left and the right. Twitter tracked 1.1 million tweets relating to the filibuster, 450,000 with the hashtag #standwithrand.

Once again, we see the power of online media to amplify an in-person event! And, we see the reinvention of a very old technique for a digital age, in this case the filibuster, which as Tumulty’s article points out, was first used in the U.S. Senate when the Constitution was in diapers. Regardless of what you think of the modern “silent” filibuster, which gums up the works of Congress to no end, a real “talking” filibuster can be a way for a Senator to bring attention to an issue (and to himself) IF people outside the Capitol can see it.

We’ve seen this dynamic in Congress with earlier media, too — C-Span created a distant audience for Congressional debates back in the 1980s, in the process bringing us the spectacle of House members addressing an empty chamber for hours on end. But as with Rand Paul on Wednesday, the REAL audience was out in the country, where for the first time we could watch remotely.

Social media adds a new dimension, of course: participation. Via Twitter, blogs, Facebook et al, we can all join in the discussion and try to sway opinions our way. It’s all part of the chaotic media jumble the internet has created around our politics…cool!


Written by
Colin Delany
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