March 2, 2009

Twittering Congress

Members of the US Congress are increasingly making use of the microblogging site Twitter.

Democrat Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri is likely to be the most avid Twitterer in the Senate. She has written more than 250 messages since becoming a member of the Twitter community in January. She sent off a number of "Tweets" during President Barack Obama's speech before the joint session of Congress last week "“ a move that drew criticism from her mother, to which McCaskill responded to on her Twitter page.

"Ok ok. Mom's upset that I was rude at Pres speech re:tweets. For the record I tweeted bfor, at very beginning, & after speech. I wanted to listen," wrote McCaskil, who is the second most followed member of Congress with more than 11,500 followers on Twitter.

She wrote about her excitement upon seeing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg after her pancreatic cancer operation.

"I did big wooohoo for Justice Ginsberg [sic]," McCaskill wrote. "She looks good."

She described the allure of Twitter as a source of reporting saying: "The best part is being able to directly talk to Missourians about my day without reporters editing!"

A website, tweetcongress.org, keeps track of the representatives and senators who have taken to sending out the messages of 140 characters or less and ranks them in terms of their number of followers and messages sent.

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona is the most followed member of Congress with more than 106,000 followers on Twitter. McCain said he uses his Blackberry to Twitter, "but not without a little help!" he wrote in one recent message.

McCain uses Twitter to discuss everything from the status of players on his hometown's NBA team, the Phoenix Suns to concerns over the new economic stimulus package.

"$650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi - how does one manage a beaver?" he wrote.

Though McCaskill and McCain may be among the most popular members of Congress on Twitter, it is actually Representative John Culberson, a Republican from Texas, who is credited with being the first Twittering member of Congress.

"There may have been others using it before me but I'm not aware of it," Culberson told news agency AFP. "To my knowledge I'm the first member of Congress to adopt it and use it."

"These new technologies give people a chance to take back control of our government by letting us see and hear how our laws are made and participate in local, state and federal government in a way we never could before," he said.

"I'm convinced that the use of social media that we see today is just the tip of the iceberg," Culberson added. "The use of social media will become as commonplace in our everyday lives as flipping on a lightbulb or as natural as breathing.


Image Caption: Members of Congress, personal digital assistants in hand, provided running commentary on U.S. President Barack Obama's speech on the social network Twitter.  (UPI Photo/Kevin Dietsch)


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