Social Studies: Is your lawmaker on Twitter?

March 4, 2009

I have a new post up over at Social Studies: Is your lawmaker on Twitter?

Here’s the post, but please leave comments over at SS:

Back in July, members of the U.S. Congress fought for their right to Twitter with a Let Our Congress Tweet campaign. It’s success, thanks in large part to Texas Rep. John Culberson, helped modernize rules — letting representatives tweet from the House floor.

If you caught President Obama’s annual message last week, you may have noticed attendees typing on their smart phones. But they weren’t just replying to urgent e-mails pertaining to national security — a handful were tweeting the event:

The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank wrote, “Some members called it a new age of transparency, a bold new frontier in democracy. But to view the hodgepodge of text messages sent from the House floor during the speech, it seemed as if Obama were presiding over a support group for adults with attention-deficit disorder.”

And here is Keith Olbermann’s take:

Harsh words, and I can understand the sentiment that everyone, particularly legislators, should pay attention when the president speaks. However, I do disagree (and not just because it was recently proven doodling while listening improves cognition).

Mobile social networking is growing fast, and I’m no longer shocked at its popularity and permeance.

At the SXSW Interactive conference last year, I was struck by the presence of an unseen digital backchannel wherever I went. Whether it was in a panel about metrics, Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote meltdown or a sponsor party, attendees were sneaking a glance at their Twitter stream to see what others were thinking, saying and doing.

In the year since, the trend has now grown to the point Congress members are offering their real-time insights, feedback and criticism on public policy. It’s a heck of a lot more convenient (and entertaining) than watching committee meetings on C-SPAN or skimming a monthly eNewsletter detailing what pork your local legislator earned you this quarter.

In fact, the trend has grown to the point I rarely attend an event that doesn’t have a fledgling digital backchannel. People tweet about snowstorms (#snowmageddon), American Idol (#americanidol) and political debates (#debate).

Twitter has given a voice to the masses, which is challenging the long accepted “I speak and you listen” model. I don’t consider multitasking adolescence. Instead, it’s an unavoidable communication complement, and one that should be embraced and leveraged rather than shunned.

Do you ever watch legislative committee meetings that drone on for hours on C-SPAN? Me neither.

But if you’ve ever read your representative’s quarterly pork newsletter and wish you had a feeling for their personality, challenges and passions, now you can thanks to social media tools like Twitter.

What worries me more than the Congress members who offered real-time insights, feedback and criticism during the president’s address are the representatives who didn’t share their feedback with constituents at all. Now there’s something to question.

Is your representative on Twitter? Find the full list here at TweetCongress.com.

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