Newark mayor and popular Twitter user Cory Booker was a highlight of this past weekend at SXSW — explaining how he began his deep relationship with social media. Interviewed by Time Magazine’s Steve Snyder, Booker took SXSWers through his journey onto Twitter and how he became one of the most active users on the site — with a following that is larger than the population size of his constituency.
Known for actively responding to tweets about broken traffic lights or families in need, Booker has become a familiar and comforting presence on Twitter. Oozing passion for life and what he does for a living, Booker said he first got into Twitter when a friend had Ashton Kutcher call him up and explain the benefits of using Twitter to improve the communication between him and his constituents. “I thought I was being Punk’d,” he said, referring to the TV show Kutcher used to host where he would play pranks on high-profile people and celebrities.
But Booker listened to the actor and began to use Twitter, saying that he has since seen how it has actively changed lives in his constituency. It has also since shaped where he sees politics and governance are heading. “The future of government has to be a collaborative model,” he said. “It should be like Wikipedia where everyone becomes a partner in the transformation process.” Booker believes wholeheartedly in the potential of Twitter and new technology in general to create a better-informed public that actively engages with politics and politicians.
When asked why he thinks more mayors aren’t on Twitter, following his example, Booker replied that he thinks many government officials are still resistant to change. But again, he emphasized the need for this to change, in order to create a better society. And yet, the mayor doesn’t always get it right though, and he admits his first mistake on Twitter was taking a joke about his love of coffee and the lack of sleep in his life too far — by saying he was lost on the Appalachian Trail “with a hot Colombian.” He received many hate letters in response, he said, adding that people criticized him for being in public office and making a joke like that.
But Twitter’s strength for him is that, like with the response to that joke, he is able to get the “raw truth” from people: what they like, what they don’t like, what they need and what they’re upset about. And he is able to be more open too: “The more transparent our leaders are, the more cynicism among the public decreases.” Booker advocates for a more authentic engagement with the political sphere and believes social media can play a huge role in this. He believes in re-tweeting his critics, because “it keeps you humble and lets your followers chime in to correct them.”
Most importantly for Booker though, is that Twitter allows him to be his true self — the self that was taught by his mother to do random acts of kindness every day and to always follow his dreams.”What defines us these days is our purpose, not our position,” he said. “I’m not a mayor, I’m Cory Booker. I don’t want to get stuck in a box.”
One of the lines that Booker spoke which resonated the most was the idea that “we’re all entrepreneurs manifesting the truth of our lives.” With this in mind, Booker and a team created WayWire, a video sharing curation tool that allows people to share videos among and with trusted sources. Because he believes pick-a-mix video content is the way of the future, he wants everyone to get involved. He is pushing a vision for the future that sees new technology as the “hope of America”, but it has to be about “going it together.” Booker touched on the subject of gossip news and fluffy viral videos being so popular, saying that he believes “significance will always trump celebrity,” and that people will always value a human connection over all else.
And so, Booker’s next move then? He wants to become a Senator so he can “disrupt government even more.”