ORLANDO — Slade O’Brien knows a lot of people who effectively use social media, blogging and personal web sites to get out a message, particularly a strong political message.
The only real problem he has with that, O’Brien said, is the ideology of the people who most effectively use these sites.O’Brien is a fiscal conservative, and he thinks liberals are well ahead of the game when it comes to using the Internet to advance a political cause or agenda.
“There’s no question that the left adopted the technology much faster than the right did, and got way ahead of the curve,” said O’Brien. “In the last presidential election, you saw (Barrack) Obama use social media in particular in a way that was never used before, and to use it extremely effectively. This is not a battle where you want to come in second place.”
O’Brien is a member of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a nationwide organization based in Arlington, Virginia that was created in 2004 to bring together people interested in advancing “every individual’s right to economic freedom and opportunity,” as the organization’s literature note.
“AFP Foundation believes reducing the size and scope of government is the best safeguard to ensuring individual productivity and prosperity for all Americans,” the group notes in its literature. It now has members in all 50 states, with 33 state chapters and affiliates.
O’Brien, based in Bacon Raton, is the director of the Florida chapter, and he’s also one of the principle organizers behind an event scheduled for Friday, Sept. 23 called RightOnline. The free-market grassroots organization plans to use this online training seminar — held during the CPAC Florida convention at the Orlando Convention Center — to give conservative activists what they need to more effectively impact public policy online.
“We’ve tried very hard to help people who are conservative use these tools, especially people not getting their news from the mainstream media,” O’Brien said. “We have made an effort as an organization to try to help advance a narrative for people who are already sort of along in the procress, to make them better at it, but also to get them more involved in social media, and change the narrative out there as it relates to issues we care about it.”
As O’Brien noted, a lot of conservatives feel liberals have more effectively dominated online activism in the past, which is why APF is sponsoring events like RightOnline.
“I am excited to bring this unmatched online training to Florida,” he said. “Lasting change happens when Americans start thinking differently on the issues. That’s why this training is critical to bringing real change in public policy here in Florida and America.”
During the event, the breakout sessions will cover topics like Social Media 101, Using Humor and Content Effectively, the Importance of State and Local Citizen Journalism, and Blogging 101: How to Build and Maintain an Effective Website.
Featured speakers will include Erik Telford, vice president for strategic initiatives and outreach at the Franklin Center, and Townhall.com’s Guy Benson.
The CPAC Florida convention will also feature appearances by the leading GOP presidential contenders, including Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, John Huntsman, and New Gingrich. Florida’s junior senator, Marco Rubio, is also scheduled to speak.
“We have four breakout sessions and we may add a fifth, and we’ve got speakers coming in who are well versed in what they are talking about as far as blogging and local investigative journalism,” O’Brien said. “It should be very engaging. It’s for the person new to this whole thing who needs help on how to set up a Facebook account, and there will be information for people out there doing blogging and recruiting and commenting on what’s going on. If we can show people how to blog and get attention and build web sites effectively and control the narrative out there, we have a greater way of getting our message out there.”
O’Brien said a good example of how effectively conservatives can use social media sites comes from an unlikely source: 76-year-old Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who in his bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008 ran on the slogan “The Taxpayers’ Best Friend,” and whose Libertarian message attracted huge online support from bloggers and other Internet users. O’Brien said Paul demonstrated that a strong message could bypass the traditional news media and find a receptive audience in cyberspace.
“He’s done an exceptional job, there’s no doubt about it,” O’Brien said. “From the conservative standpoint, he’s the one who is the furthest out ahead, not only on the fund-raising side, but also on getting quick, easy messages for his supporters to spread around.”
In fact, O’Brien thinks at one point the liberal message — caring for the poorest among us, expanding the social safety net — have may been easier to package in quick sound bites and slogans through online blogging than conservative causes. But he believes that’s changing.
“I think in the beginning, that may have been the case,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the case now. If you look at the Republican candidates for president, there isn’t one that can’t use social media effectively. In terms of broadness, I do think the more you educate people on what their particular principles are, that’s important, since I don’t think the mainstream media shares our viewpoint.”
O’Brien said a lot of the new media bloggers trained by RightOnline are from organizations friendly to conservative causes, including State Policy Network, the Heartland Institute, the Texas Public Policy Center, the Heritage Foundation, Accuracy in Media, and Americans for Tax Reform.
For more information and to register for RightOnline, log on to http://cpacfl.conservative.org/registration/.
To learn more about O’Brien’s organization, visit http://www.americansforprosperityfoundation.com/.
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