#MyBernieStory began trending on Twitter shortly after the feature’s launch, with many taking to the platform to express why Sanders is the candidate that most resonates with them.
Sen. Bernie Sanders announced via Twitter on Monday that his campaign’s BERN app, released in April of this year, has a new feature: Sanders supporters who have downloaded the app can now record a #MyBernieStory, a one minute video in which the supporter introduces themselves, discloses their state or region, shares “how a Bernie presidency will change life for [them] or [their] loved ones,” and tries to recruit the viewer to support Sanders’ campaign.
It’s no surprise that Democratic candidates are trying to woo members of Generation Z and millennials through social media, as members of these generations will make up 37% of all eligible voters come 2020. While social media platforms can and should be criticized for a host of privacy and security related issues, especially in the political realm, they can also make political mobilizing easier and more accessible to all.
#MyBernieStory supports Sanders’ grassroots approach to running a presidential campaign in that each supporter has an equal voice on his digital platform. “Our campaign motto is Not Me, Us and that is directly reflected in this incredible show of support from working people across America,” said National Organizing Director Claire Sandberg. “It’s these grassroots volunteers who will ensure Bernie Sanders wins the primary and defeats Donald Trump.”
Sanders’ grassroots campaign strategy has proved successful thus far. His campaign boasts the largest volunteer base in the Democratic race, including over one million volunteers who have collectively called over one million potential voters as well as the 1,500 enrollees in the Bernie Summer School.
Soon after the release of the hashtag, many took to Twitter to share their #MyBernieStory on the platform. Many people expressed that his health care plan was what drew them to his candidacy, including Christina Allen, who tweeted: “I’m voting for Bernie because my 87 year old dad shouldn’t have to continue to work to afford medical insurance.” Others focused on his foreign policy, his support for a $15 national minimum wage, and his student debt cancellation policy as reasons for their support.
The BERN app was the subject of controversy upon its initial reveal earlier this year due to its use of publicly-available voter records obtained from state Secretary of State offices. The app allows Sanders supporters to add names to the database, and then these names are matched to a voter record. For example, if a volunteer meets 50 people at a campaign event, that volunteer puts each of those 50 people’s names, email addresses, and phone numbers into the app, and then each person is matched with their respective record.
Supporters of the app say that BERN helps make political organizing more accessible to everyone, further supporting Sanders’ grassroots mission. Skeptics think BERN is overly invasive and worry that its divulgence of voting data could lead to harassment.
But, as experienced campaign organizers point out, these voting records are already publicly available and campaigns already use this data in their organizing efforts. According to Aida Chávez (The Intercept): “The difference is that the Sanders app democratizes the process with the goal of expanding the electorate, while the [Democratic] party operations are aimed at identifying existing supporters so they can be motivated to vote.”
According to BERN’s Q&A section, “the BERN app only gives users access to a very limited amount of that publicly available data” and “the only information that BERN gives a user that the user does not supply on their own is age.” The section further notes that less data is given out to campaign volunteers than in traditional mobilization efforts and that “there is no way to use the BERN app to contact voters who do not wish to be contacted.”
It will be important to monitor how Sanders’ digital grassroots strategies pay off and how other campaigns in the 2020 race attempt to emulate his approach to political organizing.