Thursday, December 6, 2012

SNAP Challenge and Social Media

Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, New Jersey has begun living off of food stamps for the week.  In his "SNAP Challenge" he will attempt to demonstrate the problems with the current food stamp system.  As one of the most active politicians on social media, Cory Booker has received a lot of national attention.  His response and engagement with his constituents after hurricane Sandy has been commended by national media outlets and the twitter sphere.  But where should we draw the line between social media activism and making an important program for many Americans a spectacle?

His SNAP challenge has been commended by many as a great way to bring attention to a program that needs to be revised to better help those in need.  He has been actively tweeting about his experience, showing pictures of the food he was able to buy and showing people just how little you can buy with the allotment of food stamps for one person.  The picture  to the right is from his instagram account where he has been posting his meals.  While this campaign has gotten tons of social media and national media attention, many people think that the media attention will help raise awareness about this program, however there have also been some critiques.

Huffington Post recently posted an article with anonymous comments from people living off of food stamps.  These posts ranged from supporting the Mayor's mission to criticizing him for not truly understanding what it means to be on food stamps.  I think that his SNAP challenge has opened the door to an important conversation: is the SNAP program working or does it need to be reformed? I just wonder if social media will be able to recognize this issue and start a productive conversation.  Social media opens the door for individuals with a large following on twitter, like Cory Booker, to bring attention to very important issues and start a conversation.  However I wonder what will come of this after his challenge is over.  Ideally I would like to see him design a policy solution and try to gain support but I fear that nothing will come of this conversation.

Social media provides a platform to discuss difficult issues but we need to find a way to harness the discussion on social media and turn it into something actionable so that our government can respond to the needs of the people.

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