Politician Using Twitter To Ignite Misleading Partisan Fight Over Politicians Posting To Twitter

from the politics-as-usual dept

Last month, I posted how cool it was that Republican Congressman John Culberson was really using Twitter to communicate with people. It was a great use of the technology. However, today he's been using Twitter to ignite a totally misguided partisan war, pretending (falsely) that Democrats are trying to prevent him from using Twitter. First, he announced on Twitter that "the Dems are trying to censor Congressmen's ability to use Twitter" claiming that "They want to require prior approval of all posts to any public social media/internet/www site by any member of Congress!!!" Fascinating, and troubling, if true, but it's not actually true.

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.
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Filed Under: house rules, john culberson, official communications, politics, twitter
Companies: congress, twitter


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  1. icon
    Mike (profile), 8 Jul 2008 @ 10:52pm

    Re: Focus on the First Amendment

    I understand and agree with your point that existing House rules are designed to control where and what I communicate to large audiences, but the concern you are missing is that this rule change is designed to expand the control of these current House rules to all forms of social media on the www.

    Rep Culberson, we're still talking at cross purposes here. The *existing* rules *already* cover social media on the web. That's what came out of the situation a few months back with Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

    This is not an expansion of those rules, but rather a (weak) attempt to deal with the concerns that McCarthy brought up.

    In addition, your website would be subject to certification/approval or disapproval by the House Franking Committee. You would have to modify your website to comply with their rules if you wanted members of Congress to post on it.

    As it stands now, according to existing house rules, there's NOTHING I could do to make it allowable for members of Congress to post. Your post here violates existing house rules, if taken literally.

    Yes, this new rule would create a certification process, but that's a step up from banning posting altogether.

    If they succeed with this rule, it will stifle virtually all use of social media by members of Congress because no one can or would submit blog posts/Twitters etc to franking for approval.

    Again, that's ALREADY not allowed by the existing House rules. Your use of Twitter, just like McCarthy's use of YouTube already violate those rules. This effort attempts to change that so that there are ways that you could use Twitter and McCarthy can use YouTube.

    They *could* and *should* go further, but the problem is still the existing rules, not this change.

    Clearly you agree my analysis of the effect of their proposed rule change is accurate.

    No. Your analysis is of the *existing* rules -- which we agree are problematic. The problem seems to be that you are assigning the *existing* rules to this new effort.

    They are NOT planning on weakening these existing rules. They are working to EXPAND the rules to regulate the www.


    Again, from what McCarthy said before, the existing rules ALREADY regulated the web.

    I am astonished that this does not concern you

    Rep. Culberson, frankly, this statement makes no sense. It *would* concern me if this were an extension of the rules -- but as I am trying to make clear, it appears that the problem is the EXISTING rules, not this new effort.

    No matter who is in charge we need bright sunshine in every corner of the Congress if we are ever going to straighten out the terrible way that the public's business is conducted.

    Indeed -- that's the same thing I've said over and over and over again. In fact, I've been talking about exactly that with other aspects of Congress, such as ACTA: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080603/1247531301.shtml

    The root of all the problems plaguing Washington is secrecy and darkness - we should all be on the same page demanding that these rules be waived for any and all use of social media/ the www by Congressmen and Presidents and the public.

    Indeed. And I am ALL for getting rid of these rules -- but we should be clear that the problem is the existing rules that have been around for a while -- not the new rules being proposed here.

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