I have blogged about this recently and it was a interesting topic on last week’s Media Bullseye Radio Roundtable, but there is considerable debate in Congress about the use of Web sites and social media tools. And Twitter started it all.
First the facts, then my rant.
According to the New York Times article last Sunday, John Culberson, a Republican from Texas, one of the more tech-savvy members of Congress, got into a tizzy over efforts by Representative Michael E. Capuano, chairman of the franking committee, which would impose new guidelines on legislators who post videos on external Web sites like YouTube.
Kudos to Representative Culberson. He Tweets and has apparently embraced social media, not for its cool factor, but because he sees it as an easy an efficient was to communicate with the people he serves. On his official site, Representative Culberson says:
“In an effort to become a more accessible representative, I have discovered the extent and potential of social media. I will keep expanding my use of these tools beyond Qik, Twitter, Utterz and Ustream to communicate with constituents and anyone interested in a polite thoughtful debate/discussion.
I began using this new technology this past May, and have since been communicating with the public in real time through text messaging and live video streamed directly to the internet…I have been able to answer questions, take suggestions from the public and become more accountable in my day-to-day undertakings in Washington. I am the first to personally send a text message (through Twitter.com) on the House floor, soliciting YOUR input on current legislation.”
This is a good thing, right? Social media and legislation? Not in Washington, it ain’t.
As with most things, access to social media turned into a partisan debate. Mr. Capuano, Democrat of Massachusetts, made recommendations last month intended to prevent members from using public money to communicate on outside Web sites featuring commercial and political advertisements. (Note to Representative Capuano: Twitter does not accept advertising. If they did, we would not see that stupid whale up all of the time). He later clarified what he meant by a “web site”, stating “…”We are not currently seeking to address anything other than video — not blog postings, online chats or any other written form of communication anywhere on the Internet. Any assertion to the contrary is a lie.”
So we’re cool, right? Twitter = ok. Video sites with lots of ads = not ok.
Not so much. After Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi chimed in, strutting her own Internet street skillz (“I have a blog, use YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Digg, and other new media to communicate with constituents”) it turns out that, according to the New York Times, the two sides appeared to agree that antiquated “…House rules needed to be refreshed.” Whew.
You don’t have to be a Democrat or a Republican on the Hill to do stupid things when it comes to the Internet. I harken back to Ted Stevens’ comments about the Internet, as part of the Net Neutrality debate when he uttered his famous “tubes” comment in June 2006:
“They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand [author’s note: who is it exactly who didn’t understand???], those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it’s going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.”
Representative John Culberson is Tweeting and sending video from his cell phone in an attempt to make a political point. Representative Michael Capuano is saying that he wants Congressional sites to avoid things like “from the latest Hollywood blockbuster to Viagra.” [additional author’s note: have you opened up your email lately?] The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is saying that she can hang with the ‘Net crowd. And Ted Stevens? Maybe he’ll get that “Internet” sent in June 2006 [that was] “…tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially.”
As a semi-propeller-head, communicator, social media advocate and someone who has worked in Washington, DC for more than 20 years, the fact that any of this is going on Capitol Hill when much bigger things are at stake is enough to make me wish that the Twitter whale would appear on all of the Congressional sites.
Mark Story is a part-time, adjunct professor at Georgetown University and a full-time communications professional at a government agency in Washington, D.C. Prior to the government, Mark worked for 11 years in some of the largest online public relations shops in the world. If it’s working, tweet him at mstory123.