Its garish colors and pop-up jingles have finally driven nearly all of the US Congress from MySpace. Unfortunately, they've left behind a lot of their constituents.
Plenty has changed since the spring of 2007, when MySpace was seen as a potentially invaluable tool for politicians. A close look at all 100 senators' social media efforts shows that only 39 of them have profiles on the Murdoch-owned social network; of those 39, only 11 have signed in since the summer. A less rigorous look at the House supports this trend. It's one thing for a blogger, a media outlet or an advocacy organization to flee a social network for greener pastures, but aren't Congress members using social media for slightly different reasons?
If they aren't, then they should be. No Member of Congress would leave the "constituent services" tab off of their website, yet it doesn't seem to have occurred to many beltway insiders what fruitful tools social networks can be for communicating with and representing their constituents.
And the citizens on MySpace are some of the most under-represented. When a Hill staffer asked me: "isn't MySpace just a bunch of teenagers?" he was wrong, but he was also getting at something important: besides the jarring background colors, politicians may have turned a blind eye to MySpace out of a suspicion no one on the site votes. The groups who are traditionally the most under-engaged with politics (read: don't vote) are also the most over-represented on MySpace: they are more likely to be without a college education, to earn under 30k a year and to be Black or Hispanic. By disproportionately focusing their social media efforts on, say, Facebook (where, in contrast, 87 senators boast profiles), Congress only further reinforces the unfortunate divide between the two online spaces.
Taking back the reins on whatever online tools are available to them, including MySpace, would be a boon for challenged incumbents, and for politicians' approval ratings in general. It shouldn't be news that reaching out to individual voters, online or off, is a good move for an aspiring politician. And as a team of researchers just showed, under-represented and under-engaged citizens are more likely be positively affected--including higher approval ratings and propensity to vote--by online communication between their representative and them selves.
Some senators are doing better than others. Chris Dodd boasts a whopping 6955 friends (more than most senators have on Facebook), and has smartly connected his MySpace profile to his Facebook and Twitter accounts. Other challenged incumbents should follow suite: Barbara Boxer, for example, may want to consider supplanting some of the less professional accounts that her fans have set up in favor of a more polished presence. The Myspace constituency, which has more Hispanic visitors than average according to Quantcast, should resonate especially for a Californian [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_California#Hispanic.2FLatino_Americans] like Boxer.
MySpace may have folded -- or focused its attention away from social networking -- by next year. But there will always be enclaves on the web that are, at first glance, out of politicians' reach. By ignoring these spaces, candidates and elected officials only increase the divide between the politically-engaged and the politically-unengaged online. While this is cause for worry, it's also a great opportunity to mobilize those who weren't already.
Follow Susannah Vila on Twitter: www.twitter.com/susannahvila