The Jan. 6 hearings are tailor-made for social media – that doesn’t mean they’re reaching a wide audience

On June 16, 2022, the House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol used its two-hour hearing to paint a picture of a relentless campaign by former President Donald Trump and his allies to pressure former Vice President Mike Pence into throwing the election to Trump.

The committee’s palette included video excerpts from witness interviews, live testimony from associates of both Pence and Trump, and clips showing crucial notes or excerpts from emails. The hearings, of which this was the third, run for approximately two-hour chunks of time. That’s a long time in today’s era of quick scrolling, one-minute TikToks and 240-character hot-take tweets.

But what the Jan. 6 committee hearings have shown so far is not the antithesis of social media. On the contrary, these hearings appear to be made for social media, given the elements of the presentation. The quick video cutaways, pithy sound bites and short interview clips, such as former Attorney General William Barr saying “bullshit” on repeat, are all easily broken off from the larger hearings to be repackaged as social media content.

So was the Jan. 6 insurrection.

In the days following the Jan. 6 attack, many pundits seemed baffled that the insurrectionists had stormed the Capitol with phones in hand, taking videos and selfies. This seemed self-incriminating, and it turned out to be. Yet scholars of the far-right have long discussed how social media has been essential to that community.

Those who stormed the Capitol had a history of using platforms like Reddit, Twitter and YouTube and internet messaging types like memes to spread their views. Storming the Capitol included a simultaneous internet component because the internet was part of the plan from the beginning. It was no surprise that the insurrectionists documented their actions.

It makes sense that the Jan. 6 committee hearings are equally tuned for social media. The goal of the Jan. 6 committee hearings is to impart information and tell the whole story of what really happened that day, and ideally, to reach as many in the American electorate as possible. Doing so also means understanding today’s media landscape, where clips shared on social media are just as important as the primary broadcast.

Being on social media doesn’t always guarantee that your message will go viral, however.

Attention by the numbers

With the frequent use of video interviews from the highest-ranking people in Trump’s circle, including Barr, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the Jan. 6 committee has turned Trump surrogates’ words into clips that can be easily separated from the broader hearings and shared online.

For instance, a Democratic SuperPAC has posted a TikTok video of a clip from a committee interview with Jason Miller, a member of President Trump’s inner circle, with the word “admission” stamped across it. Similar TikToks boast in all caps SHOCKING REVELATION…

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