As members of Congress explore new technologies like YouTube and Twitter, it’s worth noting some of the interesting consequences this is having on the public’s ability to have access to Congress and the legislative process.
According to Conor Kenny, managing editor of Congresspedia, 33 members of Congress are currently using Twitter, a popular social networking and microblogging service. Twitter allows users to write 140-character posts, intended to answer the question “What are you doing?”. Posts by members of Congress range from live updates from the House floor to more formal posts intended to function as news items. Recently, Rep. John Culberson’s ( R-TX-7 ) used Twitter and the video sharing site Qik to report, from the House floor, the Republicans protest of the House’s failure to hold a vote on energy legislation before the start of the Congressional recess.
Congress is currently reconsidering the restrictions placed on Internet usage by members of Congress. A proposal by Rep. Michael E. Capuano ( D-MA-8 ) offers new guidelines for the Franking Commission to restrict member’s use of commercial web sites like YouTube and Twitter unless certain conditions are met. Rep. Capuano’s guidelines include that, “official content should not be posted on a website or page where it may appear with commercial or political information.” House Minority Leader John Boehner ( R-OH-8 ) released a memo criticizing Rep. Capuano’s proposal as an “attack on free speech.”
These latest developments in the use of technology by members of Congress raise many important questions, including the value of non-traditional communications mechanisms, the need for Congress to be more open about its proceedings so that members of the public can have better access to the legislative process, and the importance of balancing innovation with standards to protect the abuse of taxpayer money. This debate will likely continue to play out as new technologies advance and Congress explores how to effectively use them. We’ll keep an eye on how this unfolds.
[Posted by Emily Feldman]