The Revolution Will Be Livestreamed

Yesterday, the House of Representatives floor was taken over by Democrats, who conducted a sit-in demonstration demanding a vote on gun reform on the House floor before the House went into recess.

After the sit-in began, the GOP made the unwise decision of turning off the C-SPAN cameras and microphones. So the House Democrats started streaming their demonstration on Twitter-owned Periscope as well as Facebook Live, and C-SPAN started broadcasting those feeds in place of their own. The hashtags #NoBillNoBreak and #HoldtheFloor began trending across Twitter. 

Moving to livestreaming after the C-SPAN feed was cut was the natural, sensible thing to do in 2016. It was also the most important live-streamed moment ever broadcast over Periscope or Facebook Live (sorry, Chewbacca Mom).

The GOP made grave political and media errors by cutting the C-SPAN feed. Cutting off C-SPAN confirmed that they did not want the demonstration to be seen. It gave the sit-in an air of both legitimacy and subversion, and the livestreams became viral. Livestreams can be linked and shared far more easily than the C-SPAN website, after all. The public conversation was amplified instead of squashed.

Twitter and Facebook are fundamentally different networks than legacy news and entertainment networks. Yes, they are centralized points of control and influence like traditional networks. But they give the power to broadcast to everyone, not just the few, and unify both content and the conversation about the content through hashtags and comment streams. 

#NoBillNoBreak accomplished exactly what it set out to do: it got us watching, and it got us talking.

UPDATE: A friend on Facebook pointed out that C-SPAN feeds typically terminate when Congress is no longer in session. Republicans were in essence following regular procedure. The resulting #NoBillNoBreak coverage highlights C-SPAN's lack of independent control over the cameras.

One possible counterpoint: Ryan and the House didn't have to follow procedure. Forcing government shutdowns over budget disagreements and failing to conduct a hearing for a Supreme Court nominee during an election year is not following procedure, either, and shows that the GOP is not beholden to procedure (there are, of course, ample examples of Democrats sidestepping procedure when it is politically expedient as well).

By choosing to follow procedure, as well as bringing unrelated bills to vote as an empty gesture, Ryan created this opportunity for his opponents to determine the media narrative.