Social Media Fills Gaps in C-SPAN Coverage During House Unrest

When C-SPAN went dark in the midst of a congressional sit-in protesting the lack of new gun control legislation, members of the U.S. House of Representatives took to social media platforms to cover the happenings in a less traditional way.

by / June 23, 2016
Democrats in the House of Representatives protested the lack of gun control legislation following the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida June 12. The sit-in lasted more than 24 hours and was largely broadcast via social media websites due to C-SPAN's inability to broadcast during an official recess. Courtesy C-SPAN

When C-SPAN went dark in the midst of a congressional sit-in protesting the lack of new gun control legislation, members of the U.S. House of Representatives took to social media platforms to cover the happenings in a less traditional way.

The protest, which stretched from roughly June 22 to June 23, centered on the call for more stringent gun laws following the mass shooting at Pulse, an Orlando nightclub, June 12, which claimed the lives of 49 people. The shooting was just one of a number of mass shootings in recent history.

The lack of audio and visual feed from the House floor may have appeared to be part of a larger conspiracy to halt the message of the protesting democrats, but the disruption was part of session broadcast policy. Once majority leadership dropped the gavel and called a recess, the feeds stopped, leaving C-SPAN unable to cover the floor activity.

In 2008, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi called a recess, killing the feeds to a GOP-led House floor protest around the oil and gas drilling at the time. The difference between then and now, however, is that C-SPAN, the organization that broadcasts the live feeds of congressional sessions, took to social media to inform the public, tweeting that it had “no control” of the House cameras.

And the now-dispersed protesters did the same, using social media platforms like Periscope to broadcast the speeches made by their colleagues. Rep. Scott Peters kicked off the unofficial coverage with a Periscope broadcast, tweeting that the rebel group of representatives had “come prepared.”

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) took to Facebook to live stream the events. Because of C-SPAN's limitations, the network picked up the feeds from these alternative sources and shared them, effectively continuing live broadcast coverage of the sit-in.

Others took to social media platforms like Twitter to share their sit-in experience with the world. The hashtags #NoBillNoBreak, #Holdthefloor, #GoodTrouble and #NoFlyNoBuy were the online rally cries of the representative.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., blasted his demonstrator colleagues, calling their actions little more than a stunt to raise money. 

“I’m not going to dwell on the decorum of the House here today other than to say, we are not going to allow stunts like this to stop us from carrying out the people’s business,” he said during his weekly briefing June 23.

Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as  assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.