WASHINGTON — With a 140-character limit on Twitter posts, you wouldn’t think the long-winded politicians in the nation’s capital would be that interested in this new technology.
As the online craze sweeps the country, some 117 members of Congress have jumped on the bandwagon, including 79 Republicans and 38 Democrats.
“I would be shocked if more members don’t start to adopt these new technologies,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who has gotten national attention for twittering everything from going to the White House to doing her laundry and grocery shopping.
“Twitter allows me an opportunity several times a day to make sure I am communicating with the people I work for back home, so they can have a glimpse into some of the policy decisions being made and relate to me as a person,” she said.
Twitter is a social networking site that allows users to micro-blog what they are doing, minute to minute. Updates, called “tweets,” can be filed from a computer or from a mobile device such as a BlackBerry.
McCaskill’s tweeting has attracted quite a following – nearly 18,000, ranking her as the second most followed member of Congress. The most followed lawmaker is Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the recent GOP nominee for president, who has more than 272,000 followers.
“As some of my colleagues may know, I have begun to twitter,” McCain said on the Senate floor earlier this month. “We have been tweeting for the last week with ‘Top Ten Earmarks,’ every day. We could go on for days and days.”
Since McCain was teased during his presidential campaign for not using the computer or e-mail, finding the 72-year-old on Twitter shows how mainstream the technology has become.
But while McCaskill actively encourages a dialogue with the public and responds to questions, and McCain gives followers a view into his day-to-day doings, such as his recent trip to Brussels, Belgium, and reaction to how Arizona’s basketball teams are doing in the NCAA tournament, other lawmakers use Twitter more for talking points and getting the message out.
Nick Schaper, who works in House Minority Leader John Boehner’s office and runs the “GOPLeader” Twitter handle, said that’s one of the great things about Twitter – it’s versatile and can be used in many ways.
“There’s no right or wrong way to do it,” he said of Boehner’s Twitter feed, which includes links to press releases, news stories and columns he’s written. “This is what we have found has … worked for us.”
But as lawmakers glom onto the new technology, there is a learning curve.
Last month, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., was criticized for compromising the security of a congressional delegation in Iraq by tweeting their location in real time.
“Moved into green zone by helicopter Iraqi flag now over palace. Headed to new US embassy Appears calmer less chaotic than previous here,” he wrote.
Others, including McCaskill and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., were criticized for twittering during President Obama’s speech last month before a joint session of Congress – and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Republican response.
“Jindal is weird,” Blumenauer tweeted. “I can’t believe Jindal. Such a sad contrast with President. Doesn’t even look or sound good, to say nothing about content.”
McCaskill later told followers that she had been scolded by her mother about it.
“OK, OK. Mom’s upset that I was rude at Pres speech re: tweets,” she tweeted. “For the record I tweeted bfor, at very beginning, & after speech. I wanted to listen.”
Some lawmakers, like Rep. Candice Miller say they’ve had enough of Twitter.
The Michigan Republican, who tweeted when Obama was sworn in to office in January that she wasn’t prepared for the cold in her Copper Harbor mittens, said she experimented with the technology but ultimately found it to be too distracting.
She said that hasn’t stopped many of her colleagues from constantly twittering.
“You see them on the House floor. Everything that’s happening, they’re tweeting,” she said. “If it works for them, good luck with it.”
How to follow lawmakers on Twitter
To check if your lawmaker is on Twitter, go to http://tweetcongress.org and look up your state.
Then, to follow your lawmaker(s) on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com and sign up for a free account.
Log in and click on the “Find People” button on the top of the page. Type in the name of the lawmaker you want to follow or their Twitter handle and click “Search.” When the results come up, click on the lawmaker’s link and then click on “Follow,” which is right under their picture.
Everything they post will show up on your home page.