Social media shows its power

Social media, a fun tool for exchanging recipes and sharing gossip, is a powerful vehicle for modern democracy.
Just ask Clay Scofield. The Republican senator from Guntersville had to back down on an abortion bill he sponsored, overwhelmed by popular opposition that found cohesion through Facebook.
At issue was Senate Bill 12. It escaped widespread notice until Feb. 23, when the Senate Health Committee approved it. That prompted some isolated posts on various Facebook pages whose members tend to have a concern for women’s rights and liberal causes. Mary and Robert Posey of Arab, concerned about the bill and recognizing the increasing volume of posts by like-minded people, created a Facebook group dedicated to the issue on Feb. 25.
Within 24 hours, the group had 700 members. A few days later, membership had grown to almost 1,500.
Scofield inundated
An early post noted that Scofield had a Facebook page. He did, although it had almost no posts other than a few congratulating him on his 2010 election. Within hours, he had hundreds of posts. Maybe thousands, although I did not count them before he began deleting them. They were brutal posts, but not offensive. They detailed consequences of the law that extended far beyond normal pro-life goals. Many were from his constituents, and all demanded that he withdraw the bill.
Facebook is an effective democratic tool but, as posts indicated, its power is narrow. The members were diverse, and they actively narrowed their message to maintain their coalition. A rare post that slammed Republicans received immediate criticism from members who said they were Republicans. The one thing that all the group members agreed upon was that SB12 should not become law.
The group’s unity depended on the fact that people with diverse perspectives could agree that the bill is awful.
Awful bill
And it is. As originally filed the bill — like its identical counterpart, House Bill 418 — requires vaginal ultrasounds for women seeking to terminate a pregnancy. It requires doctors to show the ultrasound to the woman and to describe the fetus verbally. It requires the doctor to go through this exercise even if the woman is suicidal, even if the fetus is nonviable and even if the pregnancy is the result of a rape.
Bizarrely — and maybe unintentionally — the poorly drafted bill expressly applies to the removal of ectopic pregnancies and the removal of “a dead unborn child who died as the result of natural causes, accidental trauma, or a criminal assault.” The Senate Health Committee deleted the coverage of ectopic pregnancies before approving it, but left in the language pertaining to “a dead unborn child.”
The bill manages to offend numerous constituencies, and that was essential to the coalition that formed against it. Women of both parties expressed anger that the state would intrude in such a cumbersome way. Doctors frequented the page, frustrated that the state would interfere in their relationship with their patients and that it would impose medically unnecessary, and morally questionable, requirements. Men who had watched their wives go through the trauma of aborting a nonviable fetus opposed the bill, recognizing its tragic implications.
Beyond digital
The members recognized that their goal required them to branch beyond digital outrage. Facebook became a platform for planning strategy. Members visited their senators about the bill and reported back to the group on their senator’s response. Carpools to Montgomery formed. Members raised money for non-digital protests. They shared contact information on media and elected officials. A petition calling for an end to the bill collected more than 2,000 signatures in two days.
Predictably, some members focused on narrow issues apart from the central goal of blocking the bill. Rather than disrupt the coalition, they formed new groups. One, for example, focused on the fact that the chairman of the Senate Health Committee is vice-president of a company that sells ultrasound equipment. The mission of this splinter group was to trigger an ethics investigation into the conduct of Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper.
‘Not my intent’
“I’ve been working on some amendments to clarify portions of this bill,” Scofield told WAAY TV after the deluge began. “Some of the misinformation is that this bill will apply to women who have ectopic pregnancies or miscarriages. It is not in this bill” — actually, it is — “and that was not my intent in this bill whatsoever.”
Scofield said he would exclude ectopic pregancies from the bill and would remove the requirement that women must undergo a vaginal ultrasound.
“I want it to be the choice of the mother,” Scofield said in a complete reversal. “If she does not want a vaginal transducer, she does not have to have one.”
He said he shut down his Facebook page because “there was a lot of hurtful things on there that were being posted,” and he feared for his safety.
The results of this experiment in 21st Century democracy remain unknown. Scofield has not pulled his bill, and the identical House bill continues to display the signatures of numerous North Alabama representatives. It may be that if Scofield makes the promised revisions, the narrow interests that held the Facebook coalition together will dissolve. Thousands and thousands of posts, though, suggest that nothing short of the bill’s withdrawal will suffice.
Thanks to social media, the days in which legislators could count on controversial legislation to escape public notice are over.

Contact Eric Fleischauer at http://www.mile304.com or eric@decaturdaily.com.

http://www.decaturdaily.com/stories/Social-media-shows-its-power,92477

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3 Comments

Filed under Abortion, Alabama politics, Democracy

3 responses to “Social media shows its power

  1. interesting blog! thanks for writing!

  2. gaylawynn

    Absolutely wonderful, Eric! As Carl would say, Home Run!

  3. Jo Ann C

    Thanks Eric! We have EYES OPEN now!

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