Tags: twitter | congress

It’s Not Your Congressman Tweeting You

Friday, 01 Jul 2011 12:40 PM

By Abigail Walls

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 In 2009 members of congress deemed online social networks like Twitter, “a new age of transparency, a bold new frontier of democracy,” reported a Washington Post article that year.

Hardly the democratizing force anticipated, many congressmen and women have left Twitter by the wayside.

An L2 Digital IQ survey classified the majority of US Senators as either “challenged or of average abilities in using digital media. The L2 survey measures a congressperson’s online presence in Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, how often he or she appears in “online buzz” and site traffic.

More importantly, 52 percent of those in Washington view social media sites, particularly Twitter, as nothing more than a venue for “pointless babble”, according to 2010 research by the National Journal. SourceWatch reports that less than 20 senators have Twitter accounts. Of the 435 members of the House, only 51 appear on Twitter.

The Twitter hype rides mostly on the backs of Capitol Hill staff. One Republican House communications director interviewed by the Emerging Media Research Council said social media pages maintained personally by the member of congress fair better. But, the 2011 EMRC report also states over half of the congress members studied allow their staff to manage their online presence.

Adam Conner, Associate Manager for Public Policy- Facebook, maintains that social networking is crucial to Hill politics. “Staffers worry that their member may not understand the value…But what they have to realize is that this is actually providing them with more valuable information,” Conner says. “It’s where people are having conversations—not to be (online) is the equivalent of not having an office.”

Non-profit advocacy groups like TweetCongress are attempting to increase dialogue between US Congress members and constituents through partnerships on Twitter. Despite efforts to use social media to level the playing field, congressional twitter accounts are not prone to open dialogue online.

Many Washington insiders are skeptical of the “oversharing” on information that occurs places like Twitter. Instead, it is used primarily as a promotional tool.

“An estimated 80 percent of congressional Tweets are links or messages for self-promotion, rather than promotion of transparency,” says Jennifer Colbeck, assistant professor at the University of Maryland.

Twitter has not yet delivered its promise to carry the voices of Main Street to the Capitol steps. But, it is easy enough to join the community of 32 million users following their favorite celebrities, leaders and causes while they wait.

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