US members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, are more involved on social media platforms than ever before, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis published on Thursday.
The analysis is based on a database of every tweet and Facebook post from members of Congress since 2015. It concludes that the congressional social media landscape has undergone vast changes in recent years.
A clear example of the apparent importance US lawmakers place on social media involvement could be seen in the weeks following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a white police officer during an arrest in May. Floyd's death shook the entire country, with ongoing civil unrest and a series of protests breaking out across the US. Social media platforms, which played a major role in coordinating the protests and even sparking global protests in response, was also used by lawmakers to try and reach their audiences more than ever before.
Between May 25 and June 14, 2020, there were more total mentions of the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag from members of the 116th Congress on Twitter and Facebook than from all members of Congress in the five years prior.
Some 236 members of the 116th Congress had mentioned "Black Lives Matter” on Facebook or Twitter since January 1, 2015, the earliest data point in the Pew Research Center's collection of congressional social media accounts. Of those, 121 lawmakers mentioned those terms on social media for the first time in the three weeks following Floyd’s killing.
These shifts have been especially notable on Twitter, where the typical member of Congress tweets nearly as twice today compared with a similar time period in 2016. They have nearly three times as many followers and receive more than six times as many retweets on their average posts. On Facebook, the typical member of Congress produces 48% more posts and has increased their total number of followers and average shares by half.
There have also been notable changes in the ways Democratic and Republican lawmakers use social media in order to interact with their audiences.
The typical Democratic member of Congress has over 17,000 more followers on Twitter compared with the typical Republican member and tweets nearly twice as much (130 vs 73) a trend that has increased dramatically in the last four years.
However, while the average Democratic lawmaker is more active on both Twitter and Facebook, between January and May of 2020 the typical Republican received greater levels of audience engagement, measured by reactions to posts, shares, favorites and retweets.
The Center's collection of social media posts can also provide insights into certain issues that are unique to each party by examining the use of dominant words or phrases in posts published by members of one party compared to the other. For instance, 96% of all Democrats have used the phrase “equal pay” on social media in the last five years, compared to only 13% of Republicans. That phrase is one of the most distinctively Democratic phrases among members of Congress on social media.
Also reflected in the Center's analysis is the distribution of audience engagement among members of Congress. Like in other countries, legislators and ordinary Twitter users with extremely large followings receive the majority of audience engagement. In the 116th Congress, the 10% of members with the most followers on Twitter and Facebook have received more than three-quarters of all favorites, reactions, shares and retweets on these platforms.