Seattle's News Elixir

It's been interesting to watch Congressional press offices try, and fail, to make Twitter work as an informational tool. Our delegation illustrates this awkwardness as well as any. Sen. Patty Murray's office used to have a Twitter, but @PattyMurry has mysteriously turned into @NotPattyMurray and hasn't been updated in months. @davereichert's updates are boring and strictly the facts, linking news articles that mention Reichert or updates on the Congressman's schedule.

Rep. McMorris Rodgers' Twitter feed isn't that much better, but at least tech-savvy @cathymcmorris seems to have a handle on how to reply and interact with other Twitter users. And Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA,1), our delegations newest addition to the Twittersphere, doesn't seem to be faring much better.

The rest of our delegation remains absent from the Twittersphere.

The reason for that, as well as for the boringness of the feeds from our delegation, could be that the rules governing information, at least in the House, don't exactly mesh with new technology like Twitter.

Typically, Twitter is a crazy unfiltered data stream where users update with thoughts, personal insights, observations, whatever they want. According to House Administration guidelines, however, all communications done by Representatives' press offices are funded by taxpayers and must be devoid of any personal or political messages--making it tough to update an official Twitter feed, at least in a way that's engaging.

"It's a really dynamic tool," said Inslee spokeswoman Torie Brazitis. "But they [the rules] really restrict how you can use it."

Kyle Anderson, press secretary for the Committee on House Administration, said the fact that Congressmembers have been latching onto technology like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter has made it difficult to enforce the rules on official communications. "The use of Twitter has grown really quickly in the House," Anderson told PubliCola. "There's now this grey area when it comes to monitoring the personal aspect," he says. The issue of whether members are breaking rules when they tweet about the cup of coffee they grabbed on the way to an official House meeting, for example, has press offices and rules committees alike a bit stumped.

Politicians can update non-official Twitter feeds to skirt the guidelines, but that means Representatives can't use their staffs, their taxpayer-funded blackberries, or their office PCs to update their feeds. Brazitis pointed to Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR,3) as one Rep. who maintains an unofficial feed. Blumenauer sample tweet: "McCain wasnt familiar with a blackberry right? Hows he supposed to understand a solar highway utilizing right-of-way to generate solar power."

Regardless, Inslee's Twitter page has been pretty useful in an informational capacity, says Brazitis, noting that more people have been viewing the YouTube videos they've posted.

Brazitis added that Inslee could create his own unofficial Twitter page later, if he wants to. As long as she's updating Inslee's feed, however, it's gonna stay a bit awkward. "It's just kind of a non-intuitive way of updating Twitter," says Brazitis.

Filed under
Show Comments