Periscoping the House Gun-Control Sit-In: A Political Technology Turning Point?

View through a periscope

First things first: Periscope may be just over a year old, but live-streaming video isn’t exactly new: I remember being at events broadcast via (now-defunct) Qik more than half a decade ago. And, we first explored the basics of using Periscope and Meerkat for politics and advocacy here at in June of LAST year.

But the Democratic congressmembers staging a sit-in on the House floor today may be committing one of the first really politically significant acts of live-streaming in American politics. To keep their gun-control message under wraps, the Republican leadership took the House into recess, turning off C-Span’s cameras in the process. But that didn’t stop the Democrats from broadcasting via Periscope (update: and Facebook Live) on their cellphones, which C-Span and other news outlets promptly picked up. As Fishbowl DC’s Corinne Grinapol notes of the Republicans’ attempts to squelch the opposition:,

It’s all according to the rules, except you can’t get away from the optics.

And the optics aren’t just a black screen on cable television. It is now headlines that add phrases like cut feed/cameras go dark/can’t watch, making it exactly the thing you want to watch, making the whole enterprise a bigger deal that it would have been from the onset.

As Republicans scheme to shut the Democrats down permanently, we can assume that every minute of the action will be available for public consumption, either immediately or on-demand. In a digital age, what happens behind closed doors gets shared with the world! And, you never quite know which moments will mark turning points in a long legislative battle like that over gun control…perhaps in retrospect, this week will be significant for reasons far beyond a demonstration of the potential of mobile digital technology.

One irony in the situation? In 2009, Republicans were in the minority in the House, excluded from most decision-making. To get THEIR messages out, they turned to Twitter, using their cellphones to live-tweet their own spin from the House floor. Now that they’re in power, the shoe is on the other foot, and they’re the ones experiencing a messaging end-run. Technology doesn’t care who uses it!


Written by
Colin Delany
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