The buzzword in DC these days seems to be "transparency," though it seems like not everyone agrees on the definition of the word. For example, earlier this year, we noted that the press seems to think that transparency means access
, even if that's not necessarily the case. Now, as Ed Felten points out, many politicians and the press seem to be confusing transparency with outreach
. Specifically, Twitter is full of buzz among politicians these days -- and they're claiming that it's useful for a more transparent relationship with their constituents. However, just because you use Twitter, it doesn't make you more transparent -- it just improves your outreach.
Here's the difference: outreach means government telling us what it wants us to hear; transparency means giving us the information that we, the citizens, want to get. An ideal government provides both outreach and transparency. Outreach lets officials share their knowledge about what is happening, and it lets them argue for particular policy choices -- both of which are good. Transparency keeps government honest and responsive by helping us know what government is doing.
Twitter, with its one-way transmission of 140-character messages, may be useful for outreach, but it won't give us transparency. So, Congressmembers: Thanks for Twittering, but please don't forget about transparency.
It's an important point to remember as we hear more and more politicians claiming to be transparent, when they might really just be focused on outreach.