Explosive success for Duluth Instagram "governerd"

Baihly Warfield
Updated: March 01, 2021 10:41 PM
Created: March 01, 2021 08:05 PM

A Duluth woman has found her sweet spot on Instagram answering grownups' questions about government.  

Sharon McMahon is a former government teacher, and her Instagram account @sharonssaysso grew from 50,000 followers in December 2020 to nearly 550,000 as of March 1. 

"It's a little bit surreal because I just view myself as like a teacher from Minnesota, you know?" McMahon said. 

Her success has caught the attention of national broadcasts like CNN and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, both of whom invited her to appear. 

Nearly every day, she posts a question box on her @sharonsaysso Instagram, opening the floor for anyone's questions about current events or the United States government. 

On Sunday, a follower asked about the difference between a justice and a judge. 

"Justices are on the Supreme Court," she wrote in reply. "Everyone else is a judge." 

Her style is straightforward and easy-to-understand. No question is too trivial. 

"I really just approach this from the perspective of, I am going to meet people where they are. And I am going to do my best to fill in knowledge gaps for people in a way that is not belittling and that they don't need to feel intimidated by," she said. 

McMahon frequently reminds her followers, who call themselves "governerds," that facts don't require their approval. 

"I have found that people just want to know facts, and they want to know the truth. And even if you don't like the truth or you don't approve of the facts, that in and of itself is so important and valuable and gives people peace of mind that they didn't have before," she said. "Even if you don't like the truth, it's still good to know the truth."

She hopes incremental steps toward a better understanding of government will help formulate informed opinions. She encourages people to go to primary sources and confirm facts for themselves rather than getting all their news from one source that may have a bias.

But she says it's important to understand the difference between bias and a lie. She used the next COVID relief legislation as an example, saying people can go to the government source and find out the facts about what's in it. 

"What people then take and do with those facts is they interpret them through a different lens. Some people might view that as like, this is really helping Americans, Americans need this, this is an important thing to prevent a recession. Other people might feel like this is just wasteful spending, we shouldn't be increasing the debt like this, we didn't even spend everything in the previous stimulus package," she explained. "So those are the biased lenses through which we are viewing a set of facts. But the facts remain true regardless of how you interpret them."

In January, she launched online workshops called Government for Grownups in which she does a deep dive into one topic. She's covered Congress and Constitution 101 so far. 

But she doesn't think it's bad to have to start with the basics. 

"I don't feel concerned like, oh my gosh, what is wrong with America?" she said. "I don't have that perspective. I actually am encouraged that people want to learn, that people come to me and ask questions like, can you explain this? That is encouraging to me rather than discouraging me."

And she's used her platform to make a difference. In February, her followers raised more than $550,000 to send to RIP Medical Debt, an organization that buys medical debt for pennies on the dollar then forgives it. She said the company estimates her Instagram community will help 25,000 families get rid of $56 million of medical debt. 

In May, she's launching the first season of a Government for Grownups podcast. She also has a book in the works.

You can follow her Instagram here. 

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Baihly Warfield

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