FreedomConnector is a fairly new, very well populated, and strangely unknown social network for the politically conservative that serves the Tea Party movement. It provides a Facebook-like interface to establish connections based on geographical location, as well as maps, tools for creating events, and a mobile app.
When we say “strangely unknown,” what we may really be saying is that it is popular among those who are not often found among the commenting class on the Daily Dot, Gawker, and other such online publications. But it is beyond a doubt important.
Not only is FreedomConnector an extremely popular network based on the numbers, but it acts as a meeting place for a significant percentage of those in the Tea Party movement, bringing together their voices for an ongoing conversation on all things to the right of center. Currently, FreedomConnector has 213,356 users and 6,815 groups.
Growth and criticism
That, at any rate, was the avowed intent of its creators. Although FreedomConnector was launched in February 2011, the organization behind it, the partisan FreedomWorks group, dates back much further. It was started in 2004 by a group of high-profile Republican politicians, including Dick Armey, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Jack Kemp, and William Bennett. It grew from a split with an earlier group that launched in 1984, Citizens for a Sound Economy.
It has been active from its inception in backing candidates and supporting, or opposing, legislation. It has its own SuperPAC, the FreedomWorks for America. Although it has focused on small donors, to very good effect, this month the PAC accepted a $5.28 million donation from an opaque organization that formed only days before it made the donation, according to the Associated Press.
One of the reasons FreedomConnector experienced such explosive growth was its backing and promotion by Fox News personality Glenn Beck.
FreedomConnector geo-targets members to inspire cooperation on races and legislation the grassroots Tea Party folks might have an influence on if they engage in their communities.
Some members of the Tea Party movement have accused FreedomWorks of trying to hijack the movement and nudge it away from its anti-establishment roots. FreedomWorks and groups like it, some in the movement believe, are attempting to dovetail its power and popularity back into the Republican Party and to use that political wind to raise their own profile and increase their personal power.
FreedomWorks was successful in encouraging Tea Party supporters to disrupt congressional town hall meetings on health care last year and bankrolled the 2009 Taxpayer March on Washington.
FreedomWorks’ relationship with critics of FreedomConnector has “gotten a lot better,” according to Jeff Scully, the group’s activist relations coordinator.
“FreedomConnector is user-generated,” Scully told the Daily Dot. “The news links, for instance, come only from members, never from staff. They can use it as they want.” An example Scully gave of attempting to design FreedomConnector as a tool for, not a gatherer of, Tea Partiers and other users is their Events function.
“When you send out invitations to an event, a person who is not a user can RSVP directly without having to join,” he said. “Our goal is to transform how people organize on the Right.” Scully said you cannot enforce such a transformation, only provide an appealing tool to effect it.
One member who responded to questions, Richard Michael of Walnut, Calif., agreed that FreedomConnector is user-guided. He said he uses it “because it promised to allow people to connect and form their own associations without having to tow the FreedomWorks line.” Michael does not belong to many other communities online, he said.
“Most have banned me.”
The site, as Scully said, allows all kinds of people for that very reason.
A political wild west
The gist of the messages on the site run the gamut from country to Western.
In the section titled Top 5 News, in apparent contrast to Scully’s statement regarding news posting by staff, Kristin Ribali, the social media coordinator for FreedomWorks posted, “Voodoo Economics Pt 2: Government Doesn’t Create Jobs.” A commenter called “Jesus Refused to Compromise w/Evil Obama” (a surprising theological development on a number of levels) wrote:
THANK YOU KRISTINA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I am sick of the ROMNULANS AND THE BAMAZOMBIES CLAIMING THE GOVERNMENT CREATES JOBS
Another Top Five post is called “Beyond Impeachment: Obama Treasonous Over Benghazi” and consists of a link to site called PJ Media. A commenter named George Stuart reported the following:
Rumor on the internet says it was a setup to kidnap Stevens so obama could release the blind sheik.
One of the events organized on the site was called “Operation Bengazi Accountablity-1 Million Calls Monday Oct 29.” Led by Chad Smith, the “1st Objective-(Media Blitz)” of the Operation was described this way: “By calling the press we will put pressure on them to ask the tough questions and to run the story.
Why is the White House lying to us the American people?
When did the President know and why was there no security?
Why was the video blamed when we knew that it was a terrorist attack in real time?
Was this situation a arms deal gone bad with militia or terrorist groups that do not like America?
Why are they lying to the American people?
As with many communities, the divisions within it are based on differences outsiders would find hard to understand and in most cases have never heard of before. An example of that is a blog post by Watchman2012.
Watchman describes himself as concerned with “energy, realistic energy alternatives, survival and preparation.” He “debunk(s) pseudo-science and myths about energy, and approach my subjects from a scientific viewpoint.” His concern with FreedomConnector centers on “nefarious persons” with suspect ideas. These include “The Water to Fuel Crowd;” a group he calls the “TEOT-WAKO,” which has something to do with bleach (it’s difficult to understand); “The Militant Militia” types; and others.
What bothers me is the sublime attempt to organize and then guide the “Tea Party”
something that I believe is the freedom connections goal.
Reign it in under the GOP.
Sorry, NO !
This sort of comment was not sought out. They were found by reviewing the most popular news items. However, much more workmanlike and anodyne posts are not hard to find either. For instance, a group called the Marion County Republican Precinct People have organized an event to “familiarize (members) with the process of ballot processing.”
This event feature is a focus of the site and is pretty rich in functions.
“Our geolocation tech offers step by step [driving directions] to the event,” Scully pointed out. Upon creation, every event automatically appear in congressional district pages and by county, so those in the area can access it and those searching for events will find it.
Of all the tools FreedomConnector offers, however, Scully was the most excited about the relatively new Live Events feature. The first time Live Events was launched was in late July. It is a live-streaming feature that allows real-time chat.
FreedomWorks used it for their series of FreePAC events, including rallies in Dallas and Cincinnati at which Glenn Beck spoke.
“We had 15,000 people chatting live!” Scully said. “We’ve never seen [that] on the right before.”
For the member from Walnut, though, it’s a very different aspect that attracts.
“The biggest pro,” Michael said, “is that, in exchange for joining its email list, you actually have the freedom to address a potentially large and growing audience that is geographically identified (mostly) with almost any idea.”
Among the negatives? “It doesn’t announce its plans for the network and doesn’t really address problems and suggestions through its feedback mechanism. Sub-lists for friends (like Facebook and Twitter) and sub-group capability are probably the biggest drawbacks.”
Outside the well-worn paths
One thing that is abundantly clear in reviewing the posts and events by members of FreedomConnector and its critics is that people are frustrated and are attempting to understand the world. Many are trying to think outside the well-worn paths of two-party democracy and some of those have joined the loose Tea Party movement. Others believe the sloshy and unfocused nature of the Tea Party movement wastes the energy of the people involved.
Some FreedomConnector members are in the mainstream of Tea Party thinking (so to speak). Others are trying to find sift through the confusing images of political discourse that seems unresponsive to them. Some write very cogently, others are thinking out loud, sometimes in a way that could only be characterized as confusing.
Whether FreedomConnector and FreedomWorks are good for the Tea Party or not is beyond the scope of this article. What is certain is they have figured out an online community would be a popular place to focus some of the energy and frustration that gave birth to the Tea Party movement in the first place.
Online communities were pioneered by liberal and left groups, but the leadership of the right figured out some time ago that those structures, the electronic ones as well as the processes of activism, would just as easily accommodate people of a conservative bent. Now, those people are populating conservative social networks.
FreedomConnector is a major online community in the American political scene. How sustainable it is, how flexible and influential, will require some years to figure out.