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Sunday, 29th November 2009

CRS -- Social Networking and Constituent Communication: Member Use of Twitter During a Two-Week Period in the 111th Congress

We originally posted this item on September 24, 2009. We thought it was worth a second post.

Social Networking and Constituent Communication: Member Use of Twitter During a Two-Week Period in the 111th Congress (PDF; 190 KB)

During the past 15 years, the development of new electronic technologies have altered the traditional patterns of communication between Members of Congress and constituents. Many Members now use e-mail, official websites, blogs, Youtube channels, and Facebook pages to communicate with their constituents--technologies that were either non-existent or not widely available 15 years ago.

These technologies have arguably served to potentially enhance the ability of Members of Congress to fulfill their representational duties by providing greater opportunities for communication between the Member and individual constituents, supporting the fundamental democratic role of spreading information about public policy and government operations. In addition, electronic technology has reduced the marginal cost of constituent communications; unlike postal letters, Members can reach large numbers of constituents for a fixed cost. Despite these advantages, electronic communications have raised some concerns. Existing law and chamber regulations on the use of communication media such as the franking privilege have proven difficult to adapt to the new electronic technologies.

This report examines Member use of one specific new electronic communication medium: Twitter. After providing an overview and background of Twitter, the report analyzes patterns of Member use of Twitter during two one-week periods in July and August 2009. This report is inherently a snapshot in time of a dynamic process. As with any new technology, the number of Members using Twitter and the patterns of use may change rapidly in short periods of time. Thus, the conclusions drawn from this data can not be easily generalized nor can these results be used to predict future behavior.

The data show that 158 Representatives and Senators are registered with Twitter (as of August 2009) and issued a total of approximately 1,187 "tweets" during the data collection periods in July and August 2009. With approximately 29% of House Members and 31% of Senators registered with Twitter, Members sent an average of 85 tweets per day collectively. House Republicans sent the most tweets (54%), followed by House Democrats (27%), Senate Republicans (10%), and Senate Democrats (9%). The data also suggest that more tweets were sent on Thursday than any other day of the week.

Members' use of Twitter can be divided into six categories: position taking, press or web links, district or state activities, official congressional action, personal, and replies. The data suggest that the most frequent type of tweets were press and web link tweets, which comprised 43% of in- session and 46% of recess tweets. This is followed by official congressional action tweets during session (33%) and position-taking tweets during recess (14%).

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Politico)


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