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Twitter’s Lara Cohen on How Social Media Has Changed Politics: ‘Twitter Has Literally Given Everyone a Microphone’

Power Women Summit 2019: Cohen joins Sophia Bush and Jessica Yellin to discuss how Twitter has influenced politics

Last Updated: October 29, 2019 @ 2:58 PM

#MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter — some of the most significant sociopolitical movements in the past few years have entered the public lexicon because of social media platforms like Twitter.

At the “Social Media 4 Social Change” breakout session at the Power Women Summit on Friday, activist Sophia Bush, Twitter’s the global head of partnerships Lara Cohen and journalist Jessica Yellin discussed the ways poliatical conversation and activism has changed since the creation of social media platforms like Twitter.

Cohen pointed to viral hashtags like #MeToo, started by the activists Tarana Burke, as a powerful example of how social media can influence public conversation. “The movement lives on, the hashtag lives on,” she said, referencing how just this week, the story of actors and comedians rebuking Harvey Weinstein at an invite-only event this week made waves on social media.”

Cohen added, “Influence used to be something that happened when you were famous. Twitter has literally given everyone a microphone to start a conversation.”

Because of the stories and issues that do garner attention on social media, Bush said, what gets covered in the news has begun to change as well. “[Social media],¬†for all its problems, gives us, the people, the ability to advocate for what actually affects us,” Bush said.

“Coverage has been biased in all the ways that society has been biased,” actress and activist Sophia Bush said. “It’s been incredibly important to so many of us who have been able to create these partnership groups, these whisper networks on social media where we have exposure to each other and the ability to help each other in ways that prior to these technologies hitting the market place, we couldn’t do.”

She continued, “There is the ability to create a trending topic on Twitter, to take over the algorithm on Instagram and to get global conversations going about the Ferguson protests, about the death of Nia Wilson — it would take me the rest of this panel to name all of the people of color in our country who’ve been murdered in the last couple of years, whose names so many of us know because they get populated on social media.”

Yellin, a former chief White House correspondent for CNN and founder of News Not Noise, noted the challenges of vetting information from social media. But she said she believed there was an opportunity for “hard reporting,” done by people “with really serious journalistic credentials” to be happening on social media platforms.

Still, Yellin said that even with all the journalists already active on platforms like Twitter, it was important for readers to take tweets not as “gospel” but as the “formation of a storyline.” “If we all come to social media with a little bit more of that critical lens, we’re going to all be benefited,” Yellin said.