Twitter, Transparency, and Political Process

Earlier this week I found a post in my blog reader from Off the Kuff political blog from Houston. Twitter was the topic, and Congress is struggling with its use from the Congressional floor. Here is what was said:

The actual issue is one that we discussed a few months back. Existing House rules actually forbid members of Congress from posting “official communications” on other sites. This was first noticed by a first-term Congressman who was worried that posting videos on YouTube violated this rule. Other Congressional Reps told him to not worry about it as everyone ignored that rule, and no one would get in trouble for using various social media sites such as YouTube. However, that Congressman pushed forward, and eventually got Congress to act. Of course, rather than fixing the real problem (preventing Reps from posting on social media sites), they simply asked YouTube to allow Reps to post videos in a “non-commercial manner.” YouTube agreed, and that was that.

However, the existing rules still stood. Culberson’s complaint stems for a letter (pdf) sent by Democratic Rep. Michael Capuano, suggesting that the rules actually be changed to be loosened to deal with this situation and make it easier to post content on various social media sites. Culberson, however, bizarrely claims that this is the Democrats trying to limit what he can say on Twitter. But that’s actually not at all what the letter states. The problem isn’t this letter, but the existing rules that are already in place. In fact, based on the letter, it would appear that this would make it possible for Congressional Reps to Twitter, so long as their bio made it clear they were Reps.

A bunch of people tried to understand this, and even I asked him to clarify why the problem was with this new letter, as opposed to the existing rules. His response did not address the question at all — but rather was the identical response he sent to dozens of people who questioned his claims. He notes that based on the letter, each Twitter message must meet “existing content rules and regulations.” Indeed, but the problem is that’s already true based on those existing content rules and regulations. The problem isn’t this new effort, but those existing rules and regulations, which mean that his existing Twitter messages violated the rules.

It’s really disappointing to see someone who had embraced the technology use it to try to whip up Twitter users into a frenzy, while misleading them to do so — and then not using the tools to respond to actual criticisms. The problem here is that the existing rules for Reps is problematic. It’s not this new effort to loosen the rules, other than in the fact that the loosening of the rules might not go far enough. That’s not, as Culberson claims, an attempt to censor him on Twitter, but simply an attempt to loosen the rules with a focus on YouTube and (most likely) with an ignorance of the fact that Twitter even exists.

Will Richardson elaborated on it some more today from his blog when he shared this NPR quote:

Given the rules in place, this clash between the old ways of talking to the Congress and the potential new ones may have been inevitable. Noyes says Culberson and Ryan are active users of the Internet. “They have been Twittering all over the place,” he says. “They’ve been Twittering back and forth, engaging one another in debates over politics and policy.” The reporter describes Culberson, in particular, as something of a Web maverick and a poster child for the issue.

Isn’t it ironic that these politicians have taken this tool and used it similarly to what educators have been doing? They realize the potential of the immediate personal learning network. And it is free. Guess that is what really bothers the politicians. They prefer something be used that costs tons of money and has too many channels of bureaucracy to be useful to anyone. At least they all don’t. But the best part of it to me as a political advocate for education is that it limits each side of the debate to 140 characters at a time. Yeah!!! No long winded, topic spinnin’, off-the-topic runnin’ fillibusters. Get to the point, and get there quickly because you only get 140 characters. Can’t you see the timeline for the debate:

Senator 1: @Senator2 We’ve got to consider the fact that schools are only able to handle so many unfunded mandates. At some point funding is required.

Senator 2: @Senator1 They’ve enough money already. Why give more when they just waste it? They buy all the best software, computers, etc. To what rslt?

Senator 1: @Senator2 You mean like the equipment in your office EACH of your staff members use EVERY day? Like the iPhone you are Twittering from?…

Senator 1: @Senator2 All of which is paid for by PUBLIC tax dollars with staff taught in PUBLIC schools to do the work for the PUBLIC?

Senator 3: @Senator2 Burn!

Senator 2: @Senator3 Shut-up! You’re in my party. I’m blocking you!

Or at least it might go something like that. I just wonder how Twitter would handle the public information requests for the Twitter conversations. 😉

Now, let me see if I can get my state senator and representative on board for the next legislative session.

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