Various techies gave US Rep. John Culberson a round of applause last month when they noticed his use of Twitter to post updates from the floor of Congress. But a recent tweet that says Congressional Democrats "want to require prior approval of all posts to any public social media/internet/www site by any member of Congress!!!", which he says is "outrageous and I will fight them". Turns out it's a little more complex than that.
The actual issue is one that we discussed a few months back. Existing House rules actually forbid members of Congress from posting "official communications" on other sites. This was first noticed by a first-term Congressman who was worried that posting videos on YouTube violated this rule. Other Congressional Reps told him to not worry about it as everyone ignored that rule, and no one would get in trouble for using various social media sites such as YouTube. However, that Congressman pushed forward, and eventually got Congress to act. Of course, rather than fixing the real problem (preventing Reps from posting on social media sites), they simply asked YouTube to allow Reps to post videos in a "non-commercial manner." YouTube agreed, and that was that.
However, the existing rules still stood. Culberson's complaint stems for a letter (pdf) sent by Democratic Rep. Michael Capuano, suggesting that the rules actually be changed to be loosened to deal with this situation and make it easier to post content on various social media sites. Culberson, however, bizarrely claims that this is the Democrats trying to limit what he can say on Twitter. But that's actually not at all what the letter states. The problem isn't this letter, but the existing rules that are already in place. In fact, based on the letter, it would appear that this would make it possible for Congressional Reps to Twitter, so long as their bio made it clear they were Reps.
A bunch of people tried to understand this, and even I asked him to clarify why the problem was with this new letter, as opposed to the existing rules. His response did not address the question at all -- but rather was the identical response he sent to dozens of people who questioned his claims. He notes that based on the letter, each Twitter message must meet "existing content rules and regulations." Indeed, but the problem is that's already true based on those existing content rules and regulations. The problem isn't this new effort, but those existing rules and regulations, which mean that his existing Twitter messages violated the rules.
It's really disappointing to see someone who had embraced the technology use it to try to whip up Twitter users into a frenzy, while misleading them to do so -- and then not using the tools to respond to actual criticisms. The problem here is that the existing rules for Reps is problematic. It's not this new effort to loosen the rules, other than in the fact that the loosening of the rules might not go far enough. That's not, as Culberson claims, an attempt to censor him on Twitter, but simply an attempt to loosen the rules with a focus on YouTube and (most likely) with an ignorance of the fact that Twitter even exists.