Civility Caucus In Congress Turns To Facebook To Boost Membership

By Jennifer Moire 

In the midst of a heated election season and record-low approval numbers for Congress, an under-the-radar congressional caucus focused on changing the tone on Capitol Hill is using Facebook and Twitter in a grassroots and urgent effort to get members to change their attitudes.

Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.) and Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.) (pictured) are the bipartisan pair behind the Congressional Civility Caucus (sense the irony?), which debuted its Facebook page and Twitter hashtag, #CapitolCivility, this week — the last work week before members head home for the November elections.

Organizers say they are turning to social media in the hopes that Facebook users will put direct pressure on members of Congress to be more civil, especially given the critical work that must be addressed after the elections — namely, tax cuts that are set to expire before the end of the year. And we all know how well those negotiations went the last time.

It’s common for advocacy campaigns to try to influence members of Congress on a particular issue through letters to the editor or op-eds in local papers. After all, elected officials are more likely to be swayed by voters in their districts. Social media channels such as Facebook allow members and voters to connect directly without a filter and in an immediate feedback loop.

Despite the urgency and import of the fiscal issues Congress must address in November, the caucus has a long way to go in generating support for the cause. Today, a mere 14 out of 435 members of Congress are in the caucus.

We spoke with Jamie Corley, press secretary for Capito, and Mary Petrovic of Cleaver’s office, to get the scoop on the renewed effort to get members to change their tune.

What role will Facebook and social media play in boosting membership?

Right now, the U.S. House of Representatives is in a “blackout,” which means offices can’t buy Facebook ads (or any other type of mass communication) during the 90 days before an election. Ironically, the 90 days before an election can be one of the most crucial times to promote a civil dialogue and bipartisan relations. This forces us to implement creative strategies to gain followers and reach.

We will cross-promote with Facebook and Twitter and integrate other tools such as Instagram and Flickr. We’re also encouraging members of Congress to tweet and post about their individual efforts to promote civility. This could be as simple as posting a picture of themselves having coffee with a member of the opposite party, or highlighting their co-sponsorship of legislation championed by the other party.

Why is this effort launching now, and how do the leaders hope to sustain it after the presidential election?

Capito and Cleaver started the Civility Caucus in 2005, so the idea has been around for a while. They have participated in interviews together on “Fox and Friends,” written joint op-eds in Politico, and promoted the cause individually. This is the inaugural launch of an official Facebook page.

Both Capito and Cleaver hear from constituents daily that they’re tired of the constant bickering in Washington. With statistics showing the division in politics at an all-time high, Capito and Cleaver believe Americans are looking for members to lead by example. In an op-ed, they stated, “We have now made a commitment to reignite our efforts to establish a Civility Caucus in Congress. True leaders guide with compassion and by example.”

How do you hope to recruit new members to the caucus using Facebook?

Right now, there are 14 members in the Congressional Civility Caucus. To put that into perspective, there are over 200 members in the Wine Caucus. Americans may see that and want to encourage their representatives to join the Caucus officially, or to at least join the efforts in spirit.

We’re hoping to gain national attention for the Civility Caucus efforts, and one of the ways to do that is to build a social media presence. Capito and Cleaver welcome any and all individuals to join the Congressional Civility Caucus Facebook page, regardless of party affiliation or ideology.

Readers: Do you think there is any hope for civility in the halls of Capitol Hill?