Senior sociology honors student Anthony DiMario engaged in an unusual learning experience this spring. Along with Sumner LeBaron-Brien ‘18, DiMario is managing former Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin’s twitter account.
DiMario is writing his senior thesis on how the opioid epidemic has been framed in the news media. In particular, he is interested in how media coverage focuses on societal issues that led to the crisis, including the role of the pharmaceutical industry in promoting painkillers. LeBaron-Brien studies communications strategies to tackle social problems and build communities.
In former Governor Shumlin's Twitter account, the duo found a high-profile forum to test their knowledge – a forum that comes with 20,000 followers. Shumlin was one of the first governors in the country to call attention to the unfolding opiate crisis, devoting his entire state-of-the-state address to the issue in 2014. He remains a strong advocate for reforming a system that widely prescribes drugs, sometimes resulting in addiction and personal devastation.
“It is an awesome responsibility” DiMario said. “But it’s a chance to make a real impact on these critical issues.”
DiMario and LeBaron-Brien wrote the tweets, attempting to channel Shumlin's no-holds-barred voice. “We were shy at first,” says LeBaron-Brien. “But then we started to get more comfortable. We settled into Peter’s voice and people are giving us good feedback, lots of ‘likes’ and ‘retweets.’”
Students have also tweeted on health care, immigration, and renewable energy, all topics Shumlin is passionate about. Some of the tweets have been read by more than 7,000 people.
The duo uses a program called Hootsuite to follow the conversation, then tests their tweets through a "dummy" Twitter handle, learning the ins-and-outs of effective Tweet-craft.
Their work is facilitated through an internship with the Center for Research on Vermont, under the direction of Richard Watts, a faculty member in CDAE. Watts and his students will present their work at Student Research Day, April 27.
LeBaron-Brien is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, double majoring in community and international development and community entrepreneurship. DiMario is a graduating senior from the College of Arts and Sciences, double majoring in sociology and linguistics. (See also story in Seven Days).