Social media's ever-increasing role in worldwide public discourse played out in a major way during this year's session of the New Mexico Legislature.
Even though the 60-day session ended Saturday, Twitter and Facebook are still jammed with references to #nmleg, the hashtag that helped people track happenings at the Capitol.
Pundits credit social media with engaging a broader audience in the sometimes obscure sausage-making of how a bill becomes law -- or in the case of numerous popular efforts this session, how it dies. They also say exchanges via social media had a significant role in helping organize rallies, getting people to testify at committee hearings and even persuading legislators to take certain actions.
Take House Bill 77, for example. The measure to impose background checks on all firearms buyers at gun shows had made it through the House, but Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Espanola, hadn't put it on the Senate Judiciary Committee's agenda for a hearing and was rumored to have told a constituent he wouldn't put it on the agenda. While this might have spelled a quiet death for the legislation, organizing and news reports referenced in social media turned up the heat.
Martinez put the matter on his committee's list the next day. The bill -- one that had bipartisan support and that the governor said she would sign -- eventually died in the last minutes of the Senate floor session during a Republican filibuster.
But Pat Davis, director of Progress Now NM, said the take-away lesson is that people took action. Hundreds of calls to Martinez' office happened because of connectivity through email and social media websites, he said. Likewise, when the liberal nonprofit tweeted a House member's cellphone number to invite calls about his stance on immigrant driver's licenses, the lawmaker complained that he got so many calls he couldn't use his phone that day.
"Everybody is watching social media now," said Davis. "They are sneaking away to check their Facebook page or watching social media when they should be doing something else at work. It is, as near as we can tell, the way to find the most people and get them to do something quickly."
Traffic monitor functions on Facebook allow the organization to figure out what issues are most important to people, he said.
"For example, when we were tweeting and posting about the gay marriage vote, we could see the shares and views really spiked," he said. "Normally when we post something, we had 100 people who were seeing it, but when we did the gay marriage thing we had 2,000 people who saw those posts within just the first few minutes."
Reporters for The New Mexican and other news outlets used social media to quickly get out the word about votes or updates on other happenings at the Roundhouse before filing longer stories or adding to blogs.
Independent journalist Matthew Reichbach was one of the most prolific social-media posters at the Roundhouse. Because he was able to make quick posts to the online New Mexico Telegram, he was often an early source of more explanation that just the 120 characters in an initial tweet.
Reichbach said in an interview Monday that this session saw more social media action than any of the previous four sessions he's covered, including during his time at the now-defunct New Mexico Independent online news site.
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