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Alan Simpson’s Social Media Appeal for Budget Discussion; Pope Joins Twitter

December 12, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Gwen Ifill talks to the Daily Download's Howard Kurtz and Lauren Ashburn about news via social media, including a video by Alan Simpson calling on Americans to use social media to express their views on budget deal negotiations. Plus the Pope -- someone with a lot of followers even before joining Twitter -- starts tweeting.

GWEN IFILL: And we continue our regular look at the intersection of politics and social media.

For that, we’re joined again by two journalists from the Web site Daily Download. Lauren Ashburn is the site’s editor-in-chief. Howard Kurtz is Newsweek’s bureau chief and host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

So, the last time you guys were here, we talked a lot about how the White House and the president was using social media as a way of arguing his — this social — this fiscal cliff argument. It turns out he’s not alone.

Let’s look at a little bit of something that we have been seeing this week.

ALAN SIMPSON, National Commission On fiscal Responsibility And Reform: Stop Instagramming your breakfast and tweeting your First World problems and getting on YouTube, so you can get see “Gangnam Style” and start using those social media skills to go out and sign people up on this baby, three people a week. Let it grow.

And don’t forget, take part or get taken apart. Boy, these old coots will clean out the treasury before you get there.

GWEN IFILL: These old coots will clean out the treasury.


GWEN IFILL: Lauren, this is Alan Simpson at his best, but in a completely different venue.


And I talked to him today, and he said: “I think I could go round the world in 90 days and never have the impact that this silly little thing did.”

And the idea behind this, he’s hooked up with The Can Kicks Back, helping young people try to get involved and get engaged in the fiscal cliff and making decisions. And they’re using a lot of Twitter and other social media to make their point.

GWEN IFILL: They tweeted, “When politicians delay, young people pay. It’s time to fix our $16 trillion debt.”

Is this effective, Howie?

HOWARD KURTZ, Newsweek/CNN: Well, the former senator told us he felt he had made a fool of himself. He didn’t use that word.


GWEN IFILL: He didn’t know he was doing a popular dance.

HOWARD KURTZ: He knew. He was building educated.  


LAUREN ASHBURN: He said it was like riding a horse.

GWEN IFILL: Yes, right.


HOWARD KURTZ: But, look, he and Erskine Bowles have been out there for a couple years now pushing this message that we got to raise revenues, cut spending, difficult thing for politicians to do.

So now that we’re approaching the fiscal cliff, this group, The Can Kicks Back, and the Committee for a Responsible Budget, and other groups are using Twitter and social media as a way of reaching out, promoting their message, and trying to engage younger people who might not watch all the public affairs shows.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, the thing that — when we talked to them today, they said that their goal is to get a petition to Congress and to the president.

And right after seeing the Alan Simpson video, they had 2,100 young folks signed up. But, more importantly, they have 310,000 signatures together, put together.

GWEN IFILL: You mentioned the Committee for Responsible Federal Budget. They also have been out there tweeting. One of the examples, we can see here.

“Charlie Cook, who is of course a well-known political analyst here in Washington, has called the fiscal cliff negotiations a roller coaster ride. An insult to roller coasters everywhere.”

Is he right, though?


HOWARD KURTZ: Well, this whole fiscal cliff melodrama is a little bit artificial in the sense that it’s a deadline that Congress created for itself and doesn’t seem able to fix right now.

But these groups have a pretty serious message. And they’re asking Congress to do something very difficult. So using a little humor, using an Alan Simpson “Gangnam Style” video, even targeting in tweets certain groups — for example, there was a treat about the impact that the automatic tax hike would have on Latino families — all of these are ways in which these groups are trying to hone their message so they can get some people mobilized, put a little bit of pressure on either the White House or the Congress or both to act here.

LAUREN ASHBURN: And the campaign is called the Millennial Campaign.

GWEN IFILL: So it’s engaging people who wouldn’t normally be part of these kinds of debates.


GWEN IFILL: Very interesting.

Well, we had another big, important user on Twitter this week who is embracing — someone who already has 1.2 billion followers before he ever joined Twitter. And that’s the pope, who is out there now. And he sent his — he actually sent his first tweet today: “Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.”

He’s now tweeted seven times.

LAUREN ASHBURN: And there’s a picture of him actually tweeting on an iPad.

You know, what I think is good about this is that there are views by some that the Catholic Church is antiquated. And this shows that they are embracing social media in an effort to engage, again, the younger generation.

GWEN IFILL: I checked just before we came down here, and he has already almost a million followers just on Twitter.

HOWARD KURTZ: Boy, that is really quick.

There was a time when it was considered questionable for a pope to go on radio or television when those were newfangled technologies. I mean, I think it’s very smart for the pope to try to connect with much younger people who kind of live on Twitter.

And, also, Twitter has a whole team devoted to going around the world and trying to get high-profile people, whether it’s Bill Gates or Chelsea Clinton or the Dalai Lama.

And now they have got one of the…

GWEN IFILL: It’s not by accident at all, is it?


HOWARD KURTZ: Well, I think they welcome the Vatican’s outreach on this.

LAUREN ASHBURN: And the Vatican has put together a social media team to make sure all this is executed properly.

GWEN IFILL: Does that mean you don’t actually to go to mass?


GWEN IFILL: My Catholic friends might disagree with that.

LAUREN ASHBURN: What I want to know is, are these tweets, are they blessed by God?

HOWARD KURTZ: Are they infallible?


GWEN IFILL: I don’t know if social media is quite there yet, but we will keep watching and finding out on the Daily Download.


GWEN IFILL: Lauren Ashburn, Howard Kurtz, thanks so much.

HOWARD KURTZ: Thanks, Gwen.