Why Senator Cory Booker draws inspiration from social media

Despite all the trolls lurking on the internet, Senator Booker believes in the connections we make online.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Despite the fact that social media can be pretty terrible (fake news, harassment of women and people of color, the list goes on), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) remains a fan. In a wide-ranging talk that kicked off SXSW 2017 yesterday, Senator Booker took time to note that all media can be manipulated and used for good or ill -- but said that he's seen so much potential good that he hopes activists continue to take advantage of it.

Booker touched on this theme at length in a discussion with Google's Malika Saada Saar, senior counsel on civil and human rights. Saada noted that social media was both responsible for amplifying movements like Black Lives Matter and the Women's March, but it's also led to widespread harassment in many cases.

For his part, Booker said that "that the power of those platforms is going to be determined by who engages with them and who uses them," as with all media. But, being able to speak directly to an audience is a particularly powerful tool that most politicians didn't have until recently. But Booker is still choosing to look on the positive side. "These have been some of the darkest moments of my professional life," he said, "but there has also been [some of] the most inspiring moments that just lift my spirits -- and so much of that is being sourced by our connections on social media."

Specifically, Booker said the recent airport protests that took place when Trump's first immigration ban was announced would not have happened without social media. As for how Booker is using social media, he's been making video a priority. He said he often sees a lot more video putting a video on Facebook or Twitter rather than making a speech on the senate floor. "No disrespect to the 14 people who might watch me on CSPAN -- and my mom makes 15 -- but I think my last video got something like a million views, Booker joked. He has had videos get close to that number of views on his Facebook page, though. "I think this is an essential tool for activists and artists, and its an essential tool to re-stitching our society because I do think we've seen a lot of fracturing."

As a black man, Booker finds particular value in the causes he's been able to champion through social media. "For African Americans to not feel alone in this world is really powerful," Booker said, "to let people know that I'm standing with you." He's also cognizant of the need to get out of the bubbles we all tend to fall into when consuming media, particularly with the internet making it so easy to ignore other viewpoints.

"When I go home at night and feel like I some spirit, I turn Rachel [Maddow] on because it gets me excited," he said. "But then I remind myself I need to not just listen to the things that inspire me, I need to turn over to Fox and watch what fellow Americans are consuming." It's easier said than done, but it's precisely the kind of attitude we'd benefit from more politicians having.

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