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Taking gun control to the tweets: can tech mogul Ron Conway use social media to oust 45 senators?

Taking gun control to the tweets: can tech mogul Ron Conway use social media to oust 45 senators?


'Maybe it’s something using Vine.'

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ron conway techcrunch
ron conway techcrunch

The 45 senators who blocked a gun control amendment despite its 90-plus percent approval rating may be in trouble with the white-haired godfather of Silicon Valley, "super angel" tech investor Ron Conway.

"We will employ the most sophisticated social media campaign ever built to remove these people from office," Conway told The San Francisco Chronicle. "Our Congress has ceased to be representative. It is up to the citizens to remove those people who don’t represent them."

So how exactly do you Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram your way to replacing half the Senate? Conway doesn’t know what the campaign will look like yet, he told The Verge. However, he plans to convene a group of "social media luminaries" to help him figure it out. "We’re going to have a brainstorming shortly where we come up with these ideas and come up with a plan," he said, affirming he’s "very, very serious" about it.

So how exactly can social media lead to replacing half the Senate?

"I would hope it would be SOPA-PIPA on steroids," he said, referring to the grassroots backlash that successfully quashed the two unpopular anti-piracy bills that were widely criticized for endangering the free economy of the internet.

The goal? Making sure the 45 dissenting senators pay a price for voting against the will of their constituents.

He may be the one to pull it off. Conway is known for his bottomless Rolodex, his "Rontourage" of celebrity friends, and his willingness to tussle with journalists and fellow investors over a perceived injustice.

Conway, whose fund SV Angel invests in about one startup a week, has recently focused his attention on politics. In 2011, he and Sean Parker financed a music video featuring Marissa Mayer,, Twitter cofounder Biz Stone, and others endorsing San Francisco mayor Ed Lee with a remake of Hammer’s "2 Legit 2 Quit."

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Conway threw his weight behind the Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the memory of the tragedy and advocating for gun control. He serves on the board of Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun control advocacy group founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly.

He’s also involved with a Valley effort to reform immigration. "But I’m very good at multi-tasking," he said.

Over the years, Conway has invested in Google, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Foursquare

Conway declined to name the people who will assist with this new campaign, as he hasn’t asked them yet. But given his legendary network, the group will likely to include some of the A-listers credited with inventing social media. Over the years, Conway has invested in Google, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Foursquare.

Washington’s grossly inefficient machinations have never jibed with Silicon Valley’s meritocratic dogma. Most of the tech industry preferred to operate in its own bubble — until recently, when the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act served as a wake-up call. SOPAv, a bill that could have potentially ushered in a new era of censorship on the web, inspired an extemporaneous tech lobby to use the tools of the internet rather than with Political Action Committees and lobbyists to send a message to lawmakers.

The SOPA campaign made effective use of social media, but it was mostly decentralized. Occupy Wall Street was another example of a fragmented but savvy social media strategy, spanning Livestreams and wikis, Twitter and Facebook. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, and to some extent his administration, also used social media deftly.

However, most political campaigns rely heavily on Twitter and Facebook, using only a small subset of possible tools: the hashtag, the White House petition, the viral-style video. Gradually, new tricks are emerging. The day-long website blackout, a tactic invented during SOPA that shut down many popular sites including Wikipedia, was a clever and highly visible form of online protest that reached millions of people who were otherwise unaware of the cause. During the presidential debates, a proliferation of animated GIFs became a powerful new form of propaganda. A truly sophisticated social media campaign would include more of these creative strategies.

Most political campaigns rely heavily on Twitter and Facebook, using a small subset of possible tools

Conway is not a social media addict. He’s actually notoriously un-trendy given how many startups he invests in. He was vague about what social media tools his campaign could use. "Maybe it’s something using Vine," he said. "I haven’t thought enough about it yet, but people love photos and video and so something next generation using multimedia to mobilize people to act."

What matters is the near-ubiquitous support for yesterday’s amendment, he said, which translates to a huge constituency. In a social media campaign, people, not money, are the main resource.

"Mobilizing the will of the people through social media is very achievable," he said. "If these senators can keep walking the halls of Congress, we the American public have an obligation... to make change so that the will of the people, so that the 90 percent of America, are listened to."