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Congress can’t stay off Twitter and Facebook either

Members with the largest followings saw a major portion of overall engagement

Ben Haskell, 11, participates in the “Commander-in-Tweet” exhibit hosted by “The Daily Show” in Washington in 2019. President Trump wasn’t the only one tweeting up a storm in the last two years of his administration.
Ben Haskell, 11, participates in the “Commander-in-Tweet” exhibit hosted by “The Daily Show” in Washington in 2019. President Trump wasn’t the only one tweeting up a storm in the last two years of his administration. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former President Donald Trump wasn’t the only one tweeting up a storm the last couple of years. 

During the final two years of the now-tweeter-non-grata’s presidency, members of the 116th Congress set records for the sheer volume of posts to Facebook and Twitter, a study from the Pew Research Center has found. Lawmakers with large followings didn’t even have to crank out that much content to garner a massive share of engagement. 

Thirty members had at least 1 million social media followers — triple the number from the 114th Congress. Those members generated only about 10 percent of member content. But they held 70 percent of the followers, 71 percent of the reactions and favorites, and 65 percent of the shares and retweets, the Pew study found. 

Members of the 116th collectively generated more than 2 billion reactions, such as replies and comments, on the two social media giants’ platforms, the study said. It’s a massive jump from the 114th Congress, when their posts garnered only 356 million reactions. 

Pew’s analysis covers Jan. 1, 2015, to Dec. 31, 2020, essentially spanning the 114th, 115th and 116th congresses. Pew collected collected more than 1.7 million Facebook posts from the 1,438 accounts of 714 different members and wrangled 3.8 million tweets from 1,470 accounts belonging to 717 different members.

The 30 members of the “million-follower club” included Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. The lawmakers are known for wielding their social media accounts to engage with voters — and sometimes spar with each other. 

Members of the 116th thumbed out an unprecedented number of tweets, posting twice as many times on the platform as on Facebook, according to Pew. But overall posting has been consistently rising on both platforms since January 2015. 

There has also been a major uptick in user interest on what lawmakers are saying on the platforms — the overall number of accounts that follow lawmakers has tripled since January 2015.

Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders’ combined 21.70 million followers (both Twitter and Facebook) was the most for a member in the 116th. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.,  had the second-most at 16.85 million combined. 

Ocasio-Cortez’s 12.72 million combined followers landed her in third and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, made fourth with 12.04 million combined followers.  

Pew found five first-term members of the 116th had more than 1 million followers, a departure from the 114th when no newcomers did. It’s a possible indication of the role that social media presence may now have in successful campaigns. 

The posts Pew used to conduct its analysis were ones that included text from posts, captions from images and even emojis. It excluded posts of photos or videos that did not include meaningful text.

Though posting to social media continues growing among lawmakers, that fervor hasn’t extended to passing bills.

The 116th Congress was one of the “least legislatively productive Congresses of the past five decades,” another Pew study found. “Of the 24 Congresses we analyzed, only four passed fewer laws than the 116th — three of them within the past decade.”

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