Smile, Congress! You’re on Twitter
Because being a Member of Congress isn’t hard enough, the gods invented social media.
“Social media is such a huge weakness for Members of Congress,” said Ron Bonjean, Republican partner at the bipartisan Singer Bonjean Strategies.
There are no social media best-practice guidelines for immediate or extended family members offered by the House Administration Committee, the Republican New Media Caucus, the National Republican Congressional Committee or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And it shows.
Online social media networks have been central to the downfalls of ex-Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), Christopher Lee (R-N.Y.) and Mark Foley (R-Fla.). Staffers certainly aren’t immune, either, judging from the “December to Remember” Twitterfest that staffers for Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) used to chronicle their office drunkenness and criticism of their boss.
And then last week, Maggie Fitzpatrick, the college-age daughter of Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), attracted attention for tweeting about, among other things, getting drunk in the Capitol at her father’s swearing-in last year.
Adding another layer, one of Fitzpatrick’s staffers was among the daughter’s earliest followers.
This led to the question of whether staffers have an obligation to share information with their bosses when, say, a tweet might be a bit embarrassing for the Member.
Bonjean said that not only would it be difficult to formally monitor the social media presence of a Member’s family, it is not the place of the Congressional staff to do so.
Something to keep in mind, though: Regardless of who might be charged with keeping tabs on Members and their families’ social media footprint, eventually, we’ll all be grist for the mill — at the Library of Congress, no less.
“A tiny percentage of accounts are protected, but most of these tweets are created with the intent that they will be publicly available,” Twitter explained in an official 2010 announcement.
To wit: Twitter has donated every archived tweet to the Library of Congress. Further, Twitter’s archives are searchable at the Library of Congress six months after they are created for “internal library use, for non-commercial research, public display by the library itself, and preservation.”
The online public can also search a limited version of the archives through Google Replay. This means that everything tweeted from an unprotected account can never be fully expunged.
The Wild West reality has left some political veterans hoping that official guidelines, particularly for Twitter, will soon be part of the training landscape.
“Should parties be doing that? Yeah, absolutely,” a former Republican aide said. “Especially during orientation.”
According to John Randall, eCampaign manager for the NRCC, there are no official rules for Members or their staff related to online decorum. However, he tells his staff to imagine a Wall Street Journal or New York Times masthead on the top of your screen before posting anything online or sending an email.
As for how effective best practices will prove to be, even with training, the former House GOP aide was dubious: “Stupid people have been around for millions of years. You can’t out-legislate or out-regulate stupid.”