Social Media Schools TN Legislators

This week, Tennessee state senators considered a “religious freedom” bill similar to the one that passed Kansas’ House of Representatives: legislation that empowers business owners to refuse services to potential clients, especially gay ones.

Soon after news of the legislation sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey, a Republican that represents parts of Memphis and Shelby County, was made public, a local restauranteur and chef, Kelly English, got political. Once English learned about the bill, he posted his dissent to Facebook:

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And what happened next can best be explained by Clay Shirky in Here Comes EverybodyHe described how barriers to collective action have been removed because of technology. In 2007, American Airlines passengers and many other fed-up frequent flyers successfully lobbied for the Passenger Bill of Rights after eight hours on the tarmac broke the camel’s back. Dissatisfaction and organizing via social media sparked Congressional change. (Today, passengers have the right to deplane if they’ve been sitting on a tarmac for more than three hours.)

Chez English instantly became a social media influencer by encouraging others to follow suit and vehemently rebuke the bill. And rebuke they did! Online protests, trending hashtags, and calls to action flooded posts and networks. (See Mashable’s engagement tips for help.) This resulted in two key developments: Senator Kelsey dropped his sponsorship of the bill, and the legislation was indefinitely sent to a subcommittee for the remainder of 2014.

While traditional news organizations delivered the information, the scene was filled with “alternative voices.” Not media outlets or the powers that be. We’re talking about the hoi polloi of the Internet who got offended and spoke up. While legislators and the bill’s supporters could chalk this up to public griping, English’s camp could liken it to an Egyptian revolution.

Score for this round? 1-0 with “No Bluff” English in the lead.

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