Melissa Ryan's work lives at the intersection of politics, media, and technology. For more than a decade she has been a staple in the progressive movement, helping progressives build and grow online communities. Ryan is currently visiting fellow at Media Matters for America, where she works alongside the researchers and writers studying the intersection of disinformation and technology, sharing her own expertise and identifying opportunities for content that benefits the public.
Following unprecedented foreign interference in the 2016 election, Ryan launched Ctrl Alt-Right Delete making her one of the first progressives to chronicle the rise of the alt-right. Since then, she has partnered on the newsletter with Hope not hate, a UK organization fighting racism and fascism for a generation, which has brought their expert research and campaigning work to the USA. Her newsletter has grown to more than 14,000 weekly readers -- and led Ryan to launch Factual Democracy Project, an organization pioneering a multi-disciplinary response to the extreme right coalition and the weaponization of the Internet.
As a consultant and digital campaigner Ryan has worked on more than 20 federal, state and local campaigns, leading teams that have built vibrant online communities that have knocked on thousands of doors, made tens of thousands of phone calls, and contributed millions of dollars to political candidates.
Ryan was instrumental in the #WIunion protests in 2010, helping organizers turn the occupation of Wisconsin’s State Capitol Building (to protest Scott Walker’s legislation that stripped public workers of their right to collective bargaining) into an international news story. She amplified voices of local Wisconsin bloggers and influencers at the protests and helped their work find an global audience, helping their stories be heard by millions.
As digital director at the New Organizing Institute, Ryan helped train over 500 digital strategists, helping build what The New York Times Magazine’s Robert Draper called “the yawning digital divide between the two parties.” She later signed on as digital director of EMILY’s List, which helps elect pro-choice women leaders into office. During her tenure there her team added 1 million new members to the PAC’s online reach, an increase of more than 50 percent. Ryan also worked on Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign on the digital team where she managed outreach to progressive media and other influential people.
Ryan was honored in 2014 with a Campaigns & Elections Rising Star award and was twice named by the Washington Post as a top tweeter for Wisconsin politics. She’s spoken on digital strategy at Netroots Nation, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Wellstone’s School of Campaign Management, among others. She’s often called on by both journalists and conference organizers to help everyday Americans understand how our current events are shaped by social media and how political campaigns use digital strategy to engage voters.
Ryan launched her career by writing about local and state politics for Connecticut Local Politics, then Connecticut’s most popular political blog. Her commentary about the 2006 Senate race --where Ned Lamont successfully challenged Joe Lieberman for his party’s nomination -- brought her into national political prominence. In 2008 Ryan moved to Wisconsin where she served as Senator Russ Feingold’s new media director. She led a team that raised more than $5 million over the cycle -- including the “CheddarBomb,” a coordinated fundraising campaign that raised nearly $500,000 for Feingold in a 24-hour period.
Culture and its Discontents: A Public Conversation
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, April 6-7
Fake News: 2016 was a cakewalk. Here’s what’s coming in ‘18 and ’20, and how you can prepare your clients
Reed Awards, Charleston South Carolina, February 27, 2018
Fake News, Social Media, and Polling
2018 UAW National CAP Conference, Washington DC, February 6, 2018
American Constitution Society National Lawyer Convening
Milwaukee Wisconsin, October 21, 2017
How to Fight the Alt-Right
Democratic Women of Westport, September 17, 2017
Combating Fake News Online
Netroots Nation, August 12, 2017, Atlanta Georgia
We Can Solve The Fake News Problem
Daily News Innovation Lab, February 8, 2017
Keynote: From Kissing Babies to Liking Posts: How Social Media has Changed the American Campaign
Technology and Civic Engagement 2016, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, October 14, 2016
Communications MythBusters: Best Practices vs. Bad Advice
Non Profit Technology Conference, March 25, 2016
Getting it Right in 2015
2015 Reed Awards, February 18, 2016
What Crowdfunding Can Do for Your Campaign or Organization
Art of Political Campaigning, July 18, 2015
How to Write a Fundraising Email
CampaignTech East, April 22, 2015
Running Digital Campaigns: What's Changed and What's Still Working?
Netroots Nation, July 19, 2014
The Organizing Edge: Online Predictions for the 2016 Elections
Netroots Nation, July 19, 2014
Screwing with People Fast: Rapid Response Videos in Campaigns
Netroots Nation, June 22, 2013
Social Media and Labor Activism
AFGE Editors Association Conference, February 17, 2012 VIDEO
Organizing the Occupation
New Organizing Institute at University of Wisconsin May 12, 2011
“So much of fake news that gets shared is really a values statement,” said Melissa Ryan, a digital strategist who has worked for Barack Obama and former Sen. Russ Feingold. “It almost doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, I think, particularly on the right.”
"After the election, Ryan left her high-profile job and set forth on an entirely new plan: become an expert on the alt-right. Starting with a newsletter aptly named “Ctrl Alt Right Delete,” Ryan’s gut told her that someone needed to understand this political movement that has so divided our country. And I’m betting on her and the Factual Democracy Project to be the ones to do it."
"It’s an old problem, said Melissa Ryan, an expert in digital campaigns, and one that encompasses many different types of information: conspiracy theories, hoaxes, propaganda, etc. People have been trying to “solve” it for many years, but in the age of social media, it has become militarized"
"Don't forget the 'why?' Why are you posting to Facebook? Why are you tweeting? It's important to always remember the goal."
“Last Thanksgiving, I wasn’t online all day and then I saw that everyone was talking about what they were thankful for, and I hadn’t,” said Melissa Ryan, a director of client services at Trilogy Interactive, a digital strategy firm based in Washington. “I had this sense of guilt, like I should be posting about my gratitude.” After all, Ms. Ryan always posts on National Coffee Day (“I drink a lot of coffee”). And as a “Star Wars” fan, May the Force Be With You Day on May 4 is a big deal. (“For normal people, it’s ‘Star Wars’ Day, that’s funny. But I love ‘Star Wars’ and have a lot of friends who love ‘Star Wars.’”)
"We're all media and we're all advocates if we choose to be. And our family and friends provide us with a built-in audience to speak out," said Melissa Ryan, a political operative with a decade of experience in digital and social media on campaigns.
"Your first few years in the workplace are a time to learn your craft, practice, and get really good at what you do. I see a lot of career advice about networking and mentorship but not nearly enough about the importance of working hard to hone your skills. It's difficult to go back and unlearn bad habits so use this time to build your foundation of skills and self-discipline."
Digital staffers are particularly vulnerable to scrutiny, because they likely come with a large archive of social media posts, said Melissa Ryan, a digital strategist for Trilogy Interactive, a progressive communications agency. At the same time, she said, a staff member’s personal brand can be an asset to a campaign if it draws a large number of social media users to the candidate. “I’d be much more nervous about hiring a digital staffer that had less than 500 followers than someone who had a few questionable tweets,” Ms. Ryan said.
“For Wisconsin I think the big moment was when the 14 Democratic State Senators left the state [to avoid a vote on Walker's collective bargaining bill]. I really think that's what triggered the energy around the recall of the Senators, really triggered the energy around the recall of Walker. It changed from people taking to the streets because they didn't know what to do to really having the energy to change something."
"Rather than replaced them I think digital has changed what TV and newspapers are. Newspapers have large digital presences, and TV now includes streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu. People don't view the world as being online or offline anymore. Campaigns need to adopt the same mindset in communicating to and mobilizing voters."
"Ryan is sharp, witty and has her finger on the pulse of politics – we predict she’ll be calling the shots on someone’s campaign next year."