Twits and Twitter

Ever since a bunch of U.S. Congressional Representatives got press for sending out Twitter messages during President Barack Obama’s big address before a joint session of Congress a few weeks ago, I’ve contemplated giving up my Twitter account. I mean, how edgy and provocative and cutting edge can the thing be if MEMBERS OF CONGRESS are using it? But then I read this lame, woefully incomplete Honolulu Star-Bulletin story on Hawaii state politicians who use Twitter, and I decided against dumping Twitter.

See, Twitter–a social networking service in which people send 140-character messages (tweets) directly to their “followers” and their cell-phones–works best when utilized by someone who does something interesting for a living. I use it more to receive than send because I’m a writer, and writers don’t live the most interesting lives. But someone who does something interesting–like an actor, SWAT team sniper or suicide prevention counselor–is the perfect candidate for Twitter. The problem, of course, is that these people are usually too busy doing their jobs to step aside and send out text messages.
Members of Congress–all politicians, really–should be on Twitter. I can think of no better way right now to keep in touch with constituents. But they should use it before or after they do something big: “About to chair hearing on sugar subsidies” or “Just got out of boring meeting with telecom lobby” are great; “I did big wooohoo for Justice Ginsberg,” which was an actual Tweet sent out during Obama’s speech–not so much.
Which brings me back to the disappointing Star-Bulletin piece in today’s paper. Reporter Richard Borreca has the right idea, but he limits his study of local officials and their online social networking to Lieutenant Governor James “Duke” Aiona and Democratic U.S. Representative Neil Abercrombie (both of whom are running for governor in 2010). There’s no mention at all of state officials like Democratic Senator J. Kalani English and Democratic Representative Gil Keith-Agaran, both of whom use Twitter fairly frequently.
Yes, it’s good that Borreca mentioned that Abercrombie uses Twitter, but he left out any analysis of how he uses it. Usually Abercrombie sends out Twitter messages linking to voice messages to his constituents, which is pretty cool. In contrast, English sends out much simpler messages like “is FINALLY leaving Hana to catch a flight to Honolulu” and “is in session for 3rd and final reading of Senate bills today in Honolulu”–straightforward, but not that intriguing.
Keith-Agaran is about the best local official I’ve found on Twitter, though his messages are locked (meaning people can’t just subscribe but must make a request to receive them). “State & County workers remain hurt/tickedoff by HBs changing health & retirement benefits. Kyle Roz & I met w/HGEA PAC members” was one typical tweet. Now that’s inside politics (I’m guessing “Kyle” is Democratic Representative Kyle Yamashita and “Roz” is Democratic Senator Roz Baker), but it’s also a real snapshot of what a congressional representative actually does.
With few exceptions, congressmen and women still don’t know what they’re doing with Twitter. And that means, yeah, I’m still slightly cool, so I’m staying.

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