Capitol Hill Battles Over Twitter and Blackberries
Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) is on Twitter @johnculberson. So is Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) @timryan. For those who don’t know, Twitter is a microblog that enables users to “tweet” out short text messages in 140 characters or less (about a sentence or two) designed to answer this question: “What are you doing right now?”
The popularity of the site has certainly grown, especially in the world of politics in recent months:
- The White House has been on Twitter for about a year.
UPDATE 1/2009: President George W. Bush’s Twitter account (@TheWhiteHouse) was closed shortly after President Obama was sworn-in. The new account may be found at @whitehouse.
- Many presidential hopefuls were Twitterng early in the 2008 campaign including Sens. Edwards, Obama, Clinton and McCain.
- At the Personal Democracy Forum (PdF) on June 23-24 in New York, Ana Marie Cox moderated a policy debate between Liz Mair (for McCain) and Mike Nelson (for Obama) via Twitter (hashtag: #pdfdebate).
- Just this past week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was Twittering live from the G8 Summit in Toyako, Japan.
Can We Be Frank?
So, what’s the issue? According to the House Administration Committee, any official communication with constituents needs to be approved by their Franking Commission which issues policies related to mailings from Congressional offices.
Rep. Culberson believes that preventing Members from Twittering is a violation of First Amendment rights regarding freedom of speech. House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) agrees and fired off a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
It has come to my attention that the Democratic-controlled Committee on House Administration, at the recommendation of the Democratic chairman of the Commission on Mailing Standards (Franking Commission), is considering the adoption of new congressional rules that would effectively shut down what has emerged as a free and helpfully uncensored pipeline of real-time information between the American people and their elected leaders.
I believe Members of Congress should have the ability to choose whichever service they believe will best assist in communicating with their constituents, and not be limited to only services “approved” by the House Administration Committee or any other government entity. We must encourage, not restrict, the free and open flow of uncensored information between the American people and their elected leaders over the Internet.
Members should be allowed to use technologies, websites, and services (paid or unpaid) to communicate with their constituents via text, video, or audio, so long as the content posted by the Member complies with House rules and Franking content regulations.
So, should tweets fall under House franking rules or does Congress need to adapt to 21st Century technology? I vote for the latter – and I am not alone.
A side note: After reading a few books to my 5 year-old daughter a couple weekends ago, I came across a character named “Twitter” in a Disney published fairy tale called “Beck and the Great Berry Battle.”
In the story, the hummingbirds get into a blackberry battle (actual berries, not RIM devices!) with the chipmunks over a big misunderstanding. Beck, an animal-talent fairy, attempts to resolve the dispute along with her friend, Twitter, a little blue hummingbird. They fly between the various animal factions delivering messages and attempting to broker peace, all the while dodging flying blackberries.
During an interview with Chad Pergram from Fox News just outside the House chamber, Rep. Culberson LIVE streams via Qik and discusses the issues surrounding the proposed House rules to restrict Member content to only a list of “approved” websites. Look out CNN iReport, here comes iHouse.gov!
Republican = Open, Democrat = Closed (Patrick Ruffini, The Next Right)
Why does Pelosi want rules she already violates? (Soren Dayton, The Next Right)
Speaker Pelosi to Leader Boehner on Proposed Franking Changes (The Gavel: Speaker Pelosi’s official blog)
Culberson, Capuano, and the Struggle for Relevance (Michael Turk, Kung Fu Quip)