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Meet Eric Swalwell, the newly crowned 'Snapchat king of Congress'

U.S. Rep. Swalwell uses Snapchat, Facebook Live and other social media platforms to connect with millennial voters.

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell
U.S. House Office of Photography

At nearly 11 pm on the eve of the pivotal Indiana primary, U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell has something on his mind.

Swalwell pulls out his cellphone, holds it within selfie range and launches an impromptu session of Facebook Live from his kitchen, in a kind of modern twist on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's intimate 'fireside chat' radio addresses.

"Why do we not have online voting?" Swalwell asks, laptop bag visible in the background, tossed casually on the kitchen counter. "There's a security system in place already — on our cellphones. We already use biometrics to log into our banking. We use it to log into our health records. Why can't we have online safe and secure voting?"

More and more members of Congress (75 at rough count) are using Facebook Live to reach and engage with constituents. This particular "night owl" installment attracted some 2,000 viewers at a time that's well past traditional office hours. That's the point, says Swalwell in an interview with Recode: To make himself accessible to constituents of the 15th Congressional district in California's East Bay, in a manner, and at times, that are convenient.

"I expected to be on for five minutes, and it was a 27-minute town hall where I interacted, had a virtual handshake, with dozens of constituents," Swalwell said. "I could read their questions and give them live answers."

The two-term Congressman said he applies the lessons he learned as a prosecutor in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. Some jurors are moved by seeing the murder weapon placed on the table in front of them, he said. Others are swayed by a recap of witness testimony, while some prefer a slide deck presentation.

"There's no silver bullet," Swalwell said. "There’s no one way of doing it."

Social media allows the 35-year-old Democrat from Dublin, Calif., to remain in contact with voters on multiple platforms, such as Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. His deftness with emerging digital platforms earned him the moniker the "Snapchat king of Congress."

He jokingly referred to himself as "in-house IT" for prodding other members of the Democratic caucus to use technology to reach voters — particularly those ages 18 to 34 year, millions of whom use these platforms daily.

These platforms have proved essential tools for Swalwell as one of 14 Democratic members of Congress who launched the Future Forum, a group focused on the issues of concern to millennials. The technology helps remove some of the distance and distrust many Americans, particularly younger voters, have for government.

Swalwell appears to have made at least a cultural mark. His habit of Tweeting and Instagramming a photo of his foot every time he boards a plane to head home to the district (something he pledged to do each weekend) has become its own hashtag, #Swalwelling.

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