Progressive lobbyists try to make inroads on Twitter

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Twitter has proven an effective lobbying tool for the conservative masses, and a new offshoot of the social networking site is now banding together progressives.

"Twitter is the most direct way of lobbying that anybody's seen," said Tracy Viselli, a co-founder of TweetProgress, a directory of progressives on Twitter that launched last month. "It's the most direct way to communicate with lawmakers and journalists."

TweetProgress is an index of progressively-minded Twitter users -- from regular people with an interest in activism to famously liberal public officials like Al Gore -- with the goal of "trying to connect people and... trying to get more people interested in being activists and using Twitter for that," Viselli said.

The listing includes more than 3,800 members and an updating ticker showing any tweets marked with the "progressives 2.0" hash tag (#p2). From there, it's up to the user to decide how to best make use of the directory, from directly contacting others via Twitter to advocate for an issue to just reading tweets to find out what's going on in the world of progressivism. The site offers to set up new Twitter activists with a mentor to learn more about the possibilities.

Viselli and co-founders Jim Gilliam, Jon Pincus and Gina Cooper developed TweetProgress after realizing the power conservatives had on Twitter in the aftermath of the Iranian presidential election in June. Using a visualization of tweets, Gilliam saw that posts using the "top conservatives on twitter" hash tag (#tcot) dominated tweets about the topic. To counter that dominance, the co-founders thought the first step had to be creating a place for progressives to congregate on Twitter.

"Everybody knows there are a lot more conservative politicians on Twitter than Democratic politicians," Viselli said. "That's something we'd like to change."

She pointed to the progressive response to the infamous "you lie" interruption by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. as proof that members of the directory are using it to make themselves heard. Immediately after Wilson's shout during President Obama's health care address, progressives started posting tweets about it and suggesting ways to work against the congressman, Viselli said. Members of TweetProgress donated to Wilson's likely 2010 opponent, Rob Miller, and more than 1,200 people signed a Twitter petition denouncing Wilson. Because of the viral nature of Twitter, more and more TweetProgress users followed suit as they saw via tweets what their fellow progressives were doing.

The counterpart conservative directory, "Top Conservatives On Twitter," by comparison lists nearly 7,500 users and presents them ranked by most popular, most interesting and most followed. On any average day, #tcot regularly outnumbers #p2 tweets. Adding the element of competition is what made TCOT popular, allowing easy access to Twitter accounts that conservatives and liberals alike will care about most, conservative new media strategist David All argued. And it's provided a stage for "grassroots conservative voices that otherwise wouldn't be heard," he said.

TweetProgress is not associated with any particular organization, and its founders, who all have a background in new media, work on the directory on a volunteer basis. Even if the progressives aren't competing with each other, they hope to compete with the conservatives.

"The conservatives are more... top -own, but the progressives are more grassroots and bottom-up," Viselli said. "It may be less organized. But it's more inclusive."