Members of the 116th Congress rail against social-media companies but posted to Twitter and Facebook a record 2.2 million times

Connor Perrett
·4 min read
AOC
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, seen here on August 24, 2020, was one of the most followed members of Congress during her freshman term. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images/Pool
  • Members of the 116th Congress broke records for their social media posts and followers in 2019 and 2020.

  • The Pew Research Center found lawmakers made 2.2 million posts to Twitter and Facebook, far eclipsing past years.

  • Savvy Congress members use social media to meet their constituents without relying on traditional media.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Members of Congress in total made more than 2.2 million posts to Twitter and Facebook during the 116th Congress, from January 2019 through December 2020, an analysis by the Pew Research Center published Tuesday found.

The numbers for the 116th Congress eclipsed data collected during the previous two sessions. The research center began collecting data on members' social media usage during the 114th Congress, starting in 2015. The most recent Congress produced about 738,000 more posts on Twitter and Facebook than the 114th Congress, according to Pew.

The data comes as lawmakers call for changes to social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook. Democrats have argued social media companies are too big and wield too great of power with too little oversight, accusing the platforms of fostering extremism.

Republicans, meanwhile, have in recent years claimed that social-media companies limit free speech by moderating their platforms, especially following Twitter's decision in January to permanently ban President Donald Trump and other Republicans for violating platform rules.

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According to the study, members of Congress posted twice as many times to Twitter as they did on Facebook, though posting on both platforms has "risen substantially and consistently" since the nonpartisan think tank began collecting data five years ago.

Facebook posts and tweets received more than 2 billion combined favorites, likes, or other reactions, according to the study, up from just 356 million during the 114th Congress. Shares and retweets also increased from 110 million in the 114th Congress to 500 million during the 116th Congress.

Democrats dominated the list of members with over 1 million followers

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent and former candidate for president, had more followers than any other member of Congress with more than 21.7 million followers across Twitter and Facebook at the end of 2020. Data analyzed by Pew shows that in the 116th Congress, Democrats accounted for the majority of members with more than 1 million followers on social media.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican who made headlines for publicly breaking with Trump throughout his presidency, was the fourth most-followed member of the 116th Congress with more than 12 million followers across his Facebook and Twitter accounts. He was the only GOP member in the top five most followed.

The second-most followed member of Congress across Facebook and Twitter as of late last year was Vice President Kamala Harris, then a Democratic senator from California and the vice president-elect. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, had the third-most followers, while Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was in fifth place.

Social media offers savvy lawmakers an alternative to reach their constituents and younger audiences

Dr. Vincent Raynauld, an Emerson College professor in Boston who studies how social media impacts politics, told Insider that the trend is unsurprising, given how members of Congress and other politicians have used social media as their primary way to reach their constituents.

Social media also affords politicians, from New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Texas Sen. Tex Cruz, the opportunity to connect with their audience without the need to go through traditional media outlets, especially as the market has become crowded with fringe outlets like Newsmax and One America News, he said.

It can also allow them to spread their own talking points without pushback they may receive through participating in more traditional media avenues, like on cable news or in print. Elected officials, Raynauld said, have turned to social media especially as attacks on the press have eroded the American public's trust in traditional media.

In addition to Twitter and Facebook, elected leaders in recent months have turned to other platforms to meet their constituents where they hang out, he noted, as they attempt to curate a younger audience. Ocasio-Cortez has live-streamed on popular gaming platform Twitch, while others, like the newly elected Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia, have had success with TikTok, the platform that has been controversial among political candidates and elected leaders.

Raynauld said politicians and their staff who are more technologically savvy often use the platforms differently.

Twitter and Facebook are better suited for tweets about politics and general news and policy while platforms like Instagram and TikTok can more appropriately be used to build a brand that allows the public to see politicians as less political and more "human," he said.

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