More Congressional Republicans are on Facebook than Democrats and GOP lawmakers tweet more often than their counterparts across the political aisle.
According to a survey conducted by the Associated Press, 86 percent of House Republicans tweet compared to just 75 percent of Democrats. Forty-one of the 47 Senate Republicans and 41 of the 51 Senate Democrats tweet. Eight of 10 members in both the House and Senate use Facebook and Twitter.
Not surprisingly, congressional tweeting has its skeptics. Some social media experts say lawmakers miss the point of this interactive space by trying to push messages instead of engaging with people, especially millennials — young adults between 18 and 29 whom AP says "practically live online." The Pew Internet and American Life Project says one third of Americans in the millennial age group seek to connect with their governmental officials online.
"I want it to be something that's going to be valid to me as an 18-year-old, as a new voter," says Emily Bartone, a student at George Mason University in Northern Virginia. "They can talk and talk and talk about whatever their agenda is, but if they don't personalize it to their views and their audience, then they're not going to get anywhere with it."
Heather Smith of Rock the Vote tells AP, "Have a real conversation. Talk about the issues and engage them in authentic ways. Be yourself, use the technology and people will write back."
The shadow of former Congressman Andrew Wiener getting way too personal in his tweets still looms over the Capitol, but federal lawmakers seem to be opening up to the possibilities afforded online. Some are holding online townhall meetings. The House Republican caucus held an online group townhall called "America Speaking Out."
Others are sparking conversations about serious issues, even issues pertaining to the gridlock in Congress that has discouraged many Americans and possibly eroded consumer confidence, weakening the economic recovery.
AP, with the aid of Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism students, profiled social media use by four federal lawmakers. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) sends her own messages that range from comments on the debt ceiling debate to how to make funnel cake. Senator John Boozman (R-Ark) sends out 5-minute YouTube clips, often accompanied by tweets and Facebook status updates.
Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis), who generated lots of heat over his GOP budget plan, tweets an average of 2.3 per day and has accumulated 72,000 Twitter followers. His office says he manages his own Twitter account and follows just one other Twitter user, NationalDebt. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) hosted a "Speed Geeking" event at which House members could try out different social media platforms. Pelosi says she likes Twitter because it gives her real-time feedback.
Andrew Foxwell of iConstituent told AP, "Social media should be a catalyst for political dialogue. It's what I call a 360-degree conversations. Somebody gets an email or e-letter from their representative. Then they start following that representative on Facebook or Twitter. They ask a question and the representative responds. Then you are having a real experience with a person."
Of course, nobody seems more plugged into social media than Barack Obama who has held a a Twitter Townhall and recently did a group chat on LinkedIn.