US SHUTDOWN: Federal Offices Fall Silent as Social Media Shouts

As the first US government shutdown in 17 years goes into its second week, millions of affected Americans remain in a state of financial limbo as Democrats and Republicans lock horns over proposed funding for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Obamacare, as it is often referred to, was signed into law in 2010 but it is the responsibility of Congress not the President to pass the country’s budget. The disagreement stems from the amount that should be spent on Obamacare. On October 1st Congress failed to agree on a budget for federal services and the result was a government shutdown of federal services ranging from park services to NASA.


The standoff between the Republican dominated House of Representatives and the Democrat controlled Senate over the funding for Obamacare has shone an unwelcome spotlight on the democratic system of the world’s biggest economy.


Public Response

As “non-essential” federal employees are sent home without pay many have taken to social media to cry out online at their dismay and disbelief over what is happening. The Government shutdown is the number one trending topic on Twitter in the US right now (at time of writing). When the previous budget shutdown happened in 1995 there was no social media, now social media has become the prevalent form of communication for regular people to express their views. In the past 7 days there has been over 342,000 tweets regarding the government shutdown. The hashtag is now the weapon of choice for social media users venting their frustration at the #governmentshutdown.


It’s not just twitter that’s been ablaze with angry sentiments. On Reddit there are more than 1200 search results for “government shutdown”. Instagram has got in on the action also with users posting satirical pictures of the effects of the shutdown.


Politician response – The Blame Game

Unsurprisingly political mudslinging and name calling has taken to social media as both Democrats and Republicans scramble to avoid blame for what is at best an embarrassing political episode and at worst political bickering with potentially dire economic consequences.


The Commander-In-Chief was one of the first to make his opinion clear as to where the blame lay tweeting immediately as the shutdown was being announced:



Even inanimate buildings, which I suspect may have certain political leanings, have been making themselves heard:




Not one to be out done, the “Grand Old Party”, has taken the fight out of the Senate and onto social media platforms to try and bring a halt to the tide of anger sweeping across social media in their direction. They have fought back against the hashtag volleys being sent their way by the Democrats (#JustVote#EnoughAlready) with their own slogans to once again pin the blame on the Donkeys. The Republican Speaker of The House, John Boehner, arguably the single most influential man in the whole shutdown, and one who could almost certainly end it if he so chose, has spearheaded Republican commentary regarding the shutdown.  He has championed the slogan #SenateMustAct to reinforce his belief that the Democrat senate is the side faltering and leading and “Putting America on a Dangerous Path”.


Global Reaction Across Social Media

The shutdown going on in the USA has attracted attention from around the world as other countries look on in astonishment as the world’s only superpower could not agree on a budget while the deadline to defaulting on loan payments crept closer.


Other countries have taken to social media to express their views on the shutdown. In China, for example, where mainstream media is tightly controlled by the state, the Chinese equivalent of #USGovernmentshutdown was trending as the second most discussed topic on China’s Sina Weibo (A Chinese social media platform which is mash up of Twitter and Facebook).


Sysomos, a social analytics engine, found that the shutdown had been mentioned over 5.4 million times in the social media world, with a staggering 4.9 million coming from tweets. While as would be expected the vast majority of buzz is stemming from the USA (75%). The below “buzzgraph” shows the areas where the shutdown is being discussed on social media and the heat it is generating globally.



Source: Sysomos


Whatever your opinions on the US government shutdown- and there are many- we can see the extent to which social media has taken on an important role in information sharing and assimilation. Social Media outlets such as Twitter are helping people to express themselves and get involved in current affairs which can be a positive thing for any democratic society. Government officials are able to monitor and gauge public opinion and analyze what’s trending within public opinion. We are soon to be living in a hashtag democracy.


By Sam Shedden