Celebrating Online Activism: Cheering Success, Looking to the Future

Celebrating Online Activism: Cheering Success, Looking to the Future

On Wednesday, a San Francisco online news operation reported that Solyndra, the failed solar panel manufacturer that scored some $535 million in federal loan guarantees under President Obama’s “green jobs” push, had understated the job losses that occurred when they folded. The number was previously reported as 1,100 lost jobs. But the actual figure was 1,861, according to government documents obtained by The Bay Citizen under the Freedom of Information Act–a 69 percent increase over what was originally reported.

That’s not the first time we’ve been misled by the information initially reported. Remember November 2009, when the Obama administration was boasting of tens of thousands of jobs “saved or created” by the economic stimulus the President had signed into law nine months earlier? A sharp-eyed blogger in New Mexico noticed that the administration’s Recovery.org website was reporting job creation in non-existent Congressional districts. Other bloggers and reporters followed up and revealed that the President was crediting himself with job creation in phantom districts all over the country.

Or consider what happened after the President signed his health care law in 2010. Bloggers, online reporters and social media gurus began picking the new law apart, shining a harsh light on new taxes, regulations, and rules that would affect every American and upend patient-centered health care. Over a few weeks, Americans learned more about the reality of Obamacare than they had learned in months of Congressional debate and hearings. That deluge of facts is one reason the law remains unpopular today, almost two and a half years later.

See a pattern here? In each of these cases, diligent and unflagging attention from citizens and reporters empowered by online technologies served to cut through official spin, misleading assertions, and clumsy efforts at propaganda. That’s the true power of online journalism.

For those of us on the political right who value limited government, economic freedom, and individual liberty, the explosion of online channels for developing ideas and distributing information has played a vital role in making the case against the endless expansion of government.

Would the legacy Old Guard media have dug so deeply into the health care law or the Solyndra scandal or phony stimulus claims, without having been spurred by online reporters and activists who kept the stories alive? Not likely.

That’s not to say the New York Times, Washington Post, and big broadcast news operations don’t play an important role in our society; they absolutely do. But like any large, powerful institution, they require watching, to ensure they are serving the interests of the people rather than the powerful. Online activism through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and scores of other tools has been critical in playing that watchdog role.

This site’s much-missed founder, Andrew Breitbart, played a key role in promoting this brand of activism. We’ll be celebrating Andrew’s legacy as part of the fifth annual Right Online Conference, hosted by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation in Las Vegas this weekend.

Today, bloggers, social media experts, political gurus, students, and grassroots activists from across the country are gathering to learn and share more about how we will continue to make online activism a powerful weapon in the fight for accountability, transparency, and economic freedom. Most importantly, we’re looking toward the future to determine what tools and tactics will be critical in getting the facts out about the next Solyndra or the next stimulus failure.

It’s an exciting time to be part of the community of online activists. A great deal of outstanding work has been done in the last few years to cut through the official spin to get to the facts, and it’s making a difference. At Americans for Prosperity Foundation, we look forward to continuing to be part of leading this charge in the coming years.

Can’t make it to the Vegas conference? Head to RightOnline.com and check out our livestreaming feature, which makes conference events accessible to activists and supporters around the nation.

Teresa Oelke is the Americans for Prosperity Foundation Regional Director of State Operations and the AFP Foundation Arkansas State Director.  Follow her on Twitter @ttoelke.