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The absolutely remarkable social media power of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Florida Rep. Ted Yoho address the heated exchange they had on the House steps, where Yoho allegedly called her a f**king bitch.

Posted: Jul 24, 2020 11:01 AM
Updated: Jul 24, 2020 11:01 AM

At 11:02 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday, C-SPAN sent out a tweet with New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's full remarks on the House floor regarding a confrontation with Florida Republican Rep. Ted Yoho on Monday.

Within six hours, according to C-SPAN's Jeremy Art, it became the most retweeted post ever sent by the network. Within the tweet's first 24 hours, it has been retweeted more than 95,000 times and has more than 220,000 likes.

The video itself, which runs just short of 10 minutes, has been viewed almost 12 million times, which, again according to Art, makes it the sixth most-watched C-SPAN video ever. And it is the most-watched C-SPAN House clip ever, although it posted just 24 hours ago.

Ocasio-Cortez's take-down of Yoho for sexism after he called her a "f**king bitch" following the encounter, according to a reporter from The Hill, clearly struck a chord.

This is not an accident or an anomaly. Ocasio-Cortez, despite being in her first term, has the most Twitter followers (7.8 million) of any member of the House. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has 4.9 million followers; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has 924,500.) Ocasio-Cortez has 1.4 million followers on Facebook. (She said in 2019 that she had stopped personally posting on the site.) She has 5.2 million followers on Instagram. Hell, she's on "Animal Crossing!"

Those numbers are mind-boggling. Especially when you consider that 25 months ago, very few people outside of the Queens and Bronx district she was running to represent had ever even heard her name.

It's no exaggeration to say that, aside from former President Barack Obama (120.8 million Twitter followers), there is no current member of the Democratic Party with more ability to influence the national conversation than AOC. Not even Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee (7.2 million Twitter followers). Not Pelosi. Not Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (2.4 million).

Now, influencing the national conversation isn't the same thing as being able to dictate the legislative agenda of the House or the Senate. Pelosi, who has at times bristled at talk of AOC's outsized influence, has repeatedly made that point in interviews.

"All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world," Pelosi told The New York Times' Maureen Dowd in July 2019 of Ocasio-Cortez and the three other members of the so-called "Squad." "But they didn't have any following. They're four people and that's how many votes they got."

A few months prior, Pelosi had been even more blunt about AOC and the Squad. "While there are people who have a large number of Twitter followers, what's important is that we have large numbers of votes on the floor of the House," she told USA Today.

While Pelosi is technically right -- the Speaker has oodles more ability to impact what becomes a law than AOC -- she is also misunderestimating (ahem) the power that AOC's social media might carries.

It has become de rigeur these days to insist that "Twitter isn't real life." (I have said it!) But as NYT columnist Charlie Warzel argues, that oversimplified view misses the point. Here's the key bit from Charlie:

"Still, the notion that Twitter isn't real life is untrue. There's the obvious literal sense. Twitter is a real-world platform and is used by very real humans. Then there's the notion of tangible impact. Donald Trump's use of the platform for campaigning and governing and acting as assignment editor to the media is the sterling example, but it goes well beyond that. Ask a journalist who has been fired for an old, dredged-up tweet or a woman or person of color who has been doxxed, swatted or harassed and driven from his or her home if Twitter is real life. They'll say yes.

"There's also something ineffable about Twitter's influence, especially as it pertains to politics, around movement building and fandoms. Honest, sustained social media momentum behind candidates does seem to translate into something, even if it's not clear how much to trust it."

That second paragraph, I think, really captures why AOC matters so much in Democratic politics -- and the broader culture. She is not just a politician. She is a movement, driven forward to unimaginable heights for a freshman member of Congress by ardent fans who consume anything and everything she says and does.

AOC is the new model of our politics. She represents the future of how politicians will build support and then use that support to accomplish their political and policy goals. (AOC's next goal may well be a Senate primary challenge to Schumer in 2022.)

You don't have to agree with her politics (or even like her) to see that fact.

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