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Why John McCain used Twitter to take on Hosni Mubarak (video)

In talking about the increasingly important role of social media, Sen. John McCain recounted his call for Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak to step down.

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Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, speaks to reporters at a Monitor breakfast in Washington on Wednesday.

Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor

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Sen. John McCain (R) has gone from describing himself as computer “illiterate” to telling reporters at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast on Wednesday that social media “is the new communication.” Referring to his Senate office, he said, “We are on Facebook all the time, and we twitter all the time.”

During the run-up to his presidential bid in 2008, Senator McCain told Yahoo! News that he used neither a Mac nor a PC. “I am an illiterate who has to rely on my wife” for computer assistance, he said. Later in the campaign, the Arizona senator told The New York Times he had mastered the process of checking various websites.

Since then, "there has been a quantum leap in social networking,” he said Wednesday. He noted, “We have 1.7 million followers on Twitter” in his Senate office.

After a recent trip to the Middle East with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, which included stops in Egypt and Tunisia, McCain said he called Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. The message: how young people who took part in the revolutions admire the social-networking billionaire. “He is a national hero, and they wanted him to come and visit. They want him to come to Egypt and Tunisia," McCain said.

The senator noted that when he wanted to call on Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak to step down, “I tweeted it.” He acknowledged, “That got me a lot of criticism, an issue that serious. But I was able to immediately reach 1.7 million people, and the press release would have taken a long period of time, and events were transpiring rapidly.”

McCain also said he thought social media could minimize the power of money in campaigns. Fewer people, he said, are watching television, which usually accounts for 70 to 80 percent of the spending in a national campaign. "So I also do believe it has leveled the playing field more," the senator said.

After asserting that social media are “fundamentally restructuring the whole nature of information and how it is dispensed in America,” McCain asked the reporters assembled Wednesday: “You have heard about my tweet with Snooki?”

Last June, McCain responded when Nicole "Snooki” Polizzi, star of the MTV show “Jersey Shore,” said she had stopped going to a tanning salon “because Obama put a 10 percent tax on tanning” in his health-care reform legislation. McCain tweeted, "I would never tax your tanning bed!” adding he recommended the use of sunscreen.

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“I got more coverage from tweets with Snooki than any foreign-policy or major national-security statement that I have ever made in my life,” McCain told the breakfast group.

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