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
    Killer_Tofu (profile), 9 Jul 2008 @ 6:13am

    Yay

    It is good to see John Culberson come out and visit us tech-dirtians.
    After reading the analysis and from my understanding of the current rules, John, you indeed are not technically allowed to be posting right here right now.
    I am very glad that you are though. I am also glad that you use Twitter. It is good to see representatives take an interest in what the constituents want (since it feels like you (you being general, not you specific) only do around election time).

    Have you tried just politely suggesting that you guys should go further, and skip even the approval process? It does seem like right now, an approval process is a step up from the blanket "No" (whether ignored or not). However, I perfectly agree that it does seem to be stepping on all of our First Amendment rights to force you even through an approval process. But again, it seems better than simply denying you the ability.
    Please try to work this out with them. Do what it seems you guys do best and argue. Please do not try to make this out to be a party based argument. Just suggest an even more weakened form of the current rules. If possible, take it to extreme and suggest that there be absolutely no rules limiting how you can communicate. At least that way it would be possible to compromise somewhere in the middle, and have even more of the restrictions removed than they are suggesting.
    The end goal of no restrictions is the best. But if they won't assist with removing all, at least help them to remove some. Please.

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