Caucus on Facebook DC Live
Posted by on July 07, 2011
Join House Republican New Media Caucus Co-Chairs – Reps. Bob Latta, Cathy McMorris Rogers, Rob Wittman, and John Culberson – on Facebook DC Live for a conversation about how members of Congress are using Facebook and other social media services to connect with constituents, interact with colleagues, and inform other interested parties about their activities in Washington and at home.
The Caucus holds regular briefings for both lawmakers and staff to help them understand why these new technologies are important, but how to use them as well.
To watch at 4:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 12 click here.
To ask a question post on the wall of the event or live via the "Ask a Question" button during the show.
House Lifts Ban on Low-Cost Video Conferencing Software
Posted by on June 30, 2011
By Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05)
As a member of the Tech Operations Team and co-chair of the Republican New Media Caucus, I hope this decision will enable better communications between all Members of Congress and their constituents.
As we’ve recently seen with other initiatives, the new House Majority is committed to effectively using new technologies to conduct the people’s business and tap into the great ideas and wisdom of the American people.
The House’s decision permitting VTC calls is part of that commitment. And that hasn’t gone without notice. The site TechPresident.com lauded the decision this week, calling the 112th “the most digitally inclined Congress in U.S. history.”
Now that I can use Skype and ooVoo in my official office, I will be better able to communicate with my constituents and solicit their feedback, while also saving precious taxpayer dollars. Whether it’s talking with constituents serving in the Armed Forces overseas, or talking with students in classrooms across Eastern Washington, there is great potential in using these low-cost consumer solutions.
By way of background, in April 2010, several colleagues and I sent a letter to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling on the House to ease restrictions on the use of video teleconferencing.
For their part, Skype noted in a blog post that they hope their service, “[W]ill open up new channels of communication between government officials and the people they represent, and potentially help reduce costs, increase transparency, and improve communications…”
Embracing the new media landscape
Posted by on June 13, 2011
Twenty years ago, if you wanted to contact your member of Congress, you mailed them a letter or picked up your home phone and called their office. Today you can send a text from your mobile phone or an email from your iPad. In a little over a decade, the Internet has revolutionized the relationship between elected representatives and their constituents. Now, almost every member has a “digital office” and online presence with virtual office hours to serve constituents around the clock.
The opportunity to listen and engage with constituents has expanded with the ever-growing frontiers of the Internet. For members like us that arrived after the dot-com boom, we’ve never known a time representing our constituents without the benefit of a website, email, and a mobile device.
If you accept that the Internet and social media are breakthrough technologies and that they are driving innovations across sectors and markets – then the re-shaping of our policies is just an extension of that process. As co-chairs of the Republican New Media Caucus, we are outspoken advocates for using new media to bring us closer to our constituencies – whether on the road in our district, or debating the issues of the day in Washington, D.C.
GOP Leads Media Charge
Posted by Staff on November 20, 2009
One year ago, President Barack Obama’s election win transformed political campaigns by showing the power of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and text messages.
Now Republicans are charging ahead with their own social media agendas, which are becoming more prominent in state elections and day-to-day outreach to constituents.
House Republicans are particularly active. They started the New Media Caucus last year, although it didn’t launch a website until August. Since then, members have been holding one or two briefings a month to teach staffers about new tools. Apple, YouTube and U-Stream, a live video-streaming service, have been on hand to show off the technology.
Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) is a founding member of the New Media Caucus. His office uses Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube to share information about issues and votes. He also uses a tool called Amplify, which shows what he is reading, and social network Utterli. Constituents can sign up for text-message alerts from his office, and he webcasts townhall meetings on BlogTV.com.
“He saw a void in our own offices’ communication after the Obama campaign … and we’ve been running with it ever since,” said Ryan Walker, Latta’s chief of staff. “It’s been easier than I thought to get people on board.”
Reps. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Rob Wittman (R-Va.) and John Culberson (R-Texas) helped launch the New Media Caucus and organized a summer visit to Silicon Valley. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has a YouTube channel and uploads his podcasts to iTunes.
“Social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have become an indispensable component of House Republicans’ efforts to communicate our better solutions to the American people,” Boehner said. “The Web allows us to not only deliver a clear, unfiltered message directly to the public, but also serves as an open forum where we can receive feedback from our constituents.”
Boehner, who took his own trip to Silicon Valley, said his blog — gopleader.gov/blog — received thousands of comments and questions about healthcare alone last week.
Some recent gubernatorial races also successfully used social media tactics. Republican Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell’s campaign in Virginia, for example, had 31,000 fans on Facebook, compared with the 200 fans of his opponent Creigh Deeds. The campaign hired an online strategy team that used video, blog posts, e-mail, mobile, Facebook updates, Twitter and an online action network on Ning “to create an echo chamber around the campaign’s message,” said Mindy Finn, a partner at Engage, a political media firm that handled online strategy for McDonnell’s campaign.
Finn said some supporters interacted with the campaign through only one of those social media channels, but many received information through multiple channels.
Republican Chris Christie also won his bid for New Jersey’s governor’s mansion, and had more than twice as many Facebook fans as his opponent, Gov. Jon Corzine.
Adam Conner, associate manager of privacy and public policy for Facebook and former director of online communications for Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), said that while House Republicans have led the recent social media charge in Congress, he is also working with Senate members, such as John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), in ramping up their use of Facebook.
“It has less to do with party lines and more to do with individuals taking the lead in both chambers and both parties,” Conner said. “A lot of colleagues are following more cautiously and dipping their toes in the water.”
Of the gubernatorial races, Conner said social media is not “a silver bullet.”
“Setting up a [Facebook] page doesn’t automatically win you an election,” he said.
In Congress, social media participation is, in many cases, a question of resources. Members of both the House and Senate are hiring new-media directors. Those who can’t afford to hire online strategists are integrating that role with their media staffers. Job descriptions for press secretaries and communication managers now often require Web skills.
“A year ago, that would never have been a job requirement,” said Shana Glickfield, a Washington new-media consultant. “Very few offices can afford separate new-media directors, but the fact that they’re investing in this area is very telling.”
Democrats are not standing idly by. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) both have new-media specialists in their offices. So does Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).
There are still some hurdles to jumping on the social media bandwagon. Both chambers have rules about official communications between Congress and constituents, but they have not been thoroughly updated to accommodate sites like Twitter.
“This is still an unpoliced universe when it comes to franking rules,” Walker said. “We don’t want to step out there and be a bad example. … At the same time, we try to make sure we stay true to the medium. It’s a free flow of information. We don’t want to get into the situation where every tweet or post on Facebook has to be franked first. That goes counter to the technology.”
Finn said maintaining an authentic voice online is essential for candidates or officials trying to reach constituents.
“Most recognize the value of engaging with supporters online, but they often fear communicating in an open, non-controlled environment,” she said.
Twitter is fast becoming the most effective tool for many offices. According to TweetCongress, a database of congressional tweeters, 177 lawmakers are on Twitter.
Nick Schaper, new-media director in Boehner’s office, said Twitter may soon surpass YouTube in terms of reaching large numbers of constituents.
Boehner has more than 18,000 followers on Twitter. His GOPLeader Twitter account has 14,000 followers.
“It’s not just us broadcasting the message,” he said. “You get to see what other people are saying and respond to that.”
GOP Takes the Health Care Debate Online
Posted by Staff on November 03, 2009
As the House of Representatives prepares to take up debate on the Democrats' massive health care overhaul, Republicans are preparing Internet-based efforts to present a united front against the bill.
The bill, Republican leaders say, is bloated with questionable provisions that few citizens -- or legislators -- have had a chance to debate. Now, they intend to pick apart those provisions online.
"All you need to know is there are 1,990 pages," Republican House leader John Boehner said of the health care measure. "That should tell you everything." Boehner presented in an op-ed ways to make the legislative process more transparent, commenting that it is typical for "massive bills [to be] unveiled in the dark of night and rushed to a vote before anyone in America could possibly know the details."
To prove to voters they intend to dissect those details, House Republicans will gather in a congressional reading room this afternoon to pour through the bill -- and will invite citizens to join them online. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) is Webcasting the reading, which is taking place from 2 to 6 p.m. this afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Republican caucus is using the social networking site Amplify to highlight portions of the bill with which they take issue. On their page healthcaretruth.amplify.com, Republican users share the actual text of the bill up for discussion and leave a comment. Other users can leave their own comments or share the content using Twitter, Facebook, Digg and other social networking tools.
Reps. Boehner, Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) spearheaded the project, and Boehner introduced it to other House Republicans this morning at their weekly members-only meeting.
"As House Republican members continue to move through this massive bill, we wanted a tool that would make it easy to show Americans what it means in plain English -- the general public doesn't have the time or the inclination to read a 2,000-page bill," Nick Schaper, the director of new media for Boehner's office, told the Hotsheet. "We'd really like to start a section-by-section discussion on the bill."
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The GOP will continue its online push against the bill on Thursday, when Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) will lead a 12-hour online town hall to discuss health care.
After the 2008 elections, when the Obama campaign skillfully ran online fundraising and volunteering efforts, the conventional wisdom has been that Democrats are outdoing Republicans in engaging voters with new technology. Schaper said that's no longer the case.
The election "was a real spark for our members to realize this needs to be a major part of our communications strategy," Schaper said. "This is no longer a gimmick. This is how the American people want to receive their news and want to hear from us."
Since then, Republicans have embraced the Web, liveblogging events like the 2009 budget debate and producing for-the-Web videos on issues like the financial crisis. Republicans have an edge on Twitter, with some of the most followed and most active accounts from Capitol Hill.
Still, one could argue the GOP has yet to match House Democrats in online creativity.
A New Generation of Internet Lawmakers
Posted by Staff on September 30, 2009
Posted by Mitch Wagner on September 29, 2009 08:14 PM
I'm still stuck in the 90s when I think about elected officials using the Internet. Back in the 90s, elected officials had never even touched the Internet. … Until recently, I thought of lawmakers as still being as naive as they were back then. But a brief conversation with Rep. John Culberson shattered my preconceptions.
Of course, I knew intellectually that elected officials had moved on from the 90s. President Obama couldn't bear to part with his BlackBerry, and drove using Web 2.0 for open government. But I guess I didn't really get it. I still thought of elected officials as being a bunch of old fogies who typed with one finger, had to call tech support when they couldn't find the "any" key, and referred to the CD-ROM drive as "the cup holder."
Culberson brushed that preconception aside as soon as he called me. The first thing he did was ask me about Google Voice, the Google Internet telephony service, which I have used as my primary phone number since the service launched as Grand Central in early 2007. We discussed the benefits: Voicemail transcription, one number that rings all your phones. He had some difficulty setting it up, and we talked about that. In a strange way, his difficulty getting it configured impressed me most of all--the problems he encountered are the ones that a skilled Internet user sometimes stumbles over when running a Web 2.0 service. (I told him I'd be happy to help with it, but that the folks at Google would probably be thrilled to lend a hand, too.)
We had a brisk discussion about the merits of Twitter, Facebook, and the Qik; video-sharing service. He ended up explaining Qik to me
Culberson, a leader of the conservative opposition to Obama, has led the charge for Republican use of social media and Web 2.0, getting many of his GOP colleagues active on Twitter.
Congressional Republicans Dominate Twitter
Posted by Staff on September 23, 2009
Congressional Republicans may be struggling to communicate a coherent message above the angry din generated by town hall protests, Rep. Joe Wilson’s scream and conservative talkers, but a new study finds it’s not for lack of tweeting.
Nearly twice as many Republicans as Democrats have accounts on the social networking platform Twitter (101 compared with 57), and the GOP dominates Twitter usage by an even wider margin, according to a report released this week by the Congressional Research Service that analyzed two weeklong periods in July and August. During those spans, congressional Republicans posted 932 messages — or tweets — compared with 255 for Democrats, CRS analysts found.
Twitter allows users to text short messages of 140 characters or fewer from their phones, BlackBerrys or computers to their profile pages and their followers’ phones and computers. And though some experts question the effectiveness of Twitter as a political communication tool and more than a few lawmakers have already experienced the downside of the unfiltered communication it offers, Republican communications staffers have actively encouraged their lawmakers to tweet away. And so they have.
“While in St. Joseph, I made a second stop at the Stetson outlet store to get a second pair of Levi’s,” Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) tweeted this month.
“Stoked that the triplets stood up on a surfboard and road [sic] the wave for the first time today,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) recently informed his public.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had the most subscribers to his tweets, but two Democrats — Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Claire McCaskill of Missouri — did make it into the top five list maintained by the website TweetCongress, which describes itself as “a grass-roots effort to get our men and women in Congress to open up and have a real conversation with us.” It lists Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in the top five, as well, and puts the current total of congressional Twitterers to 190. The CRS report, meanwhile, found that 4,186 people subscribed to — or followed — the median Republican senator, versus 2,874 for the median Democratic senator. The median Republican congressman had 1,615 followers, compared with 969 for Democratic colleagues.
Through a spokeswoman, McCaskill said her staff doesn’t monitor her tweets and that her constituents get a lot out of the direct interaction with her.
What are members of Congress getting out of all this sharing? Not clear.
David All, a Republican Internet strategist hired recently to help bolster Wilson’s presence online — including on Twitter — said the site “is not the end-all, be-all, but it has proven to be a good tool to help public officials, trade associations, major brands and media achieve their online goals.”
He asserted that “every effective communications professional or major association needs a real strategy for utilizing Twitter at all times — especially during key events where real-time response is crucial.”
But Micah Sifry, who blogs about the intersection of the Internet and politics at TechPresident, contended that “few members of Congress are really using Twitter very effectively. Most aren’t engaging a community all that well and, instead, use the tool primarily to broadcast a PR-style message that isn’t likely to get spread around much by others.”
In fact, congressional staffers have taken to tweeting bland press-release-style messages in their bosses’ names. According to the CRS study, a lion’s share of the 1,187 congressional tweets during the two weeks analyzed (July 26 through Aug. 1, and Aug. 9 through Aug. 16) touted upcoming television appearances or disseminated links to press releases or news stories in which the member in question was quoted.
Bill Tancer, general manager of global research at Hitwise, which tracks Internet traffic, said Twitter “does have the potential” to be an effective political tool, though he predicted it’s just as likely that another new platform will supersede it.
And that’s not the only problem GOP tweeters have faced.
A handful of House members were called out for tweeting during President Barack Obama’s February address to a joint session of Congress, including Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), whose account tweeted, “Aggie basketball game is about to start on espn2 for those of you that aren’t going to bother watching pelosi smirk for the next hour.” That was followed quickly by another message reading: “Disregard that last tweet from a staffer.”
In July, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a member of the Navy Reserve, was criticized for disclosing his location while on duty, which risked running afoul of military rules.
Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) raised eyebrows when he used his very active Twitter account to compare the Iranian protests over their disputed election to House Republicans’ efforts to “expose repression” such as a House Democratic “clampdown” on Republican amendments.
But Culberson, whose 12,735 followers put him among the most popular House members on Twitter, called social networking “an essential part of my job, which is a direct personal interaction with my constituents. The day will come very soon in which we will achieve real-time democracy in a way that has never been done before. And like freedom, once people taste it, they won’t go back.”
Still, he said Twitter is just “one tool. I have shifted in recent weeks to Facebook. I’m personally convinced that Facebook will be the pivot point for the next American Revolution, which will organize itself digitally over the Internet and will express itself at the next election.”
Culberson Joins Effort to Require Legislation to be Posted Online for Public Review
Posted by Staff on September 23, 2009
Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday turned back a Republican amendment to wait 72 hours and require a full cost estimate before the final committee vote on the health care reform bill.
It was the committee's first vote out of more than 500 amendments awaiting them, in what has already been a contentious mark-up session.
The amendment would have delayed a vote on the final bill for about two weeks to allow the Congressional Budget Office to complete its final analysis on the cost and implications of the legislation.
Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln was the only Democrat to vote with Republicans for the amendment, further signaling that she may be an attractive swing vote for Republicans.
Instead, the panel passed an alternative amendment that would require the committee to post the full bill, in "conceptual" instead of legal language, as well as as a CBO cost estimate.
Separately, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers on Wednesday announced their own effort to force Democratic leaders to give members of Congress -- and the public -- 72 hours to review legislation before any bill is brought to the floor for a vote.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Brian Baird, Washington Democrat, and Republican Reps. John Culberson of Texas and Greg Walden of Oregon, would require House leaders to post all non-emergency legislation online, in its final form, three days before a vote.
The lawmakers have begun circulating a discharge petition that would force House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a vote on their bill, which has been stuck in committee for months.
GOP lawmakers in particular have hammered Mrs. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders for rushing long, complex bills through the House.
"The American people are angry that Speaker Pelosi didn't allow the public and their elected representatives to read the trillion-dollar 'stimulus' bill or the national energy tax before they were rammed through the House," Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Wednesday. "Congress can, and must, do better."
In the Senate Finance Committee debate, Democrats argued that the amendment, offered by Sen. Jim Bunning, Kentucky Republican, was merely an attempt to stall President Obama's top legislative priority.
"This is fundamentally a delay tactic," said Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat.
Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, promised committee members that they'd have a preliminary analysis of the bill before they vote.
Republicans said the full analysis, which details the cost and implications of the bill, is necessary to inform their vote.
"It's what [the public] expects us to do anyway -- read a bill before you vote on it," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, ranking Republican on the panel.
Further complicating the process is the fact that the Finance Committee works on "conceptual language" -- plain English explanations that are later turned into legislative text.
The committee has always worked with conceptual language with the understanding that if a lawmaker finds a discrepancy later, the chairman can change the text to reflect what was intended.
Democrats argued that the conceptual language made it easier to understand what the committee is voting on, but Republicans said that the legislative details are significant.
Rushed floor votes on the stimulus bill and the cap-and-trade energy bill -- both of which totaled more than 1,000 pages -- have fueled calls from the public that lawmakers read bills before voting on them. The House resolution is supported by several public-interest groups, including the Sunlight Foundation, which point out that hasty votes can result in unintended consequences, such as the provision tucked into the stimulus bill that had the effect of authorizing executives of bailed-out insurance giant AIG to receive retroactive bonuses.
Earlier this summer, Mrs. Pelosi told a reporter she would allow a 48-hour waiting period prior to bringing health care legislation up for a vote.
The discharge petition requires 218 signatures to force a vote on the bill, which has 98 co-sponsors. There are currently 256 Democrats and 177 Republicans in the House.
RNMC Co-Chair featured in Washington Post
Posted by Staff on September 18, 2009
Politicians' Tweets Are Mostly Self-Promotional, Researchers Say
By Daniel de Vise
The arrival of Twitter on Capitol Hill has given ordinary citizens access to the candid, real-time thoughts of their elected representatives.
Like this dispatch from Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii): just completed weightlifting workout at the Nuuanu Y.
Or this, from Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa): I will b intrvud on AgriTalk at 10amCST. Pls tune in.
A team of researchers from the University of Maryland plodded through more than 6,000 Twitter postings by members of Congress to study whether the social networking site promoted transparency in politics and dialogue between elected leaders and the public.
They found -- surprise! -- that politicians spend most of their time on Twitter promoting themselves.
Launched in 2006, Twitter allows users to send succinct (no more than 140 characters) reports on their comings, goings and musings. Sixty-nine members of Congress had Twitter accounts by February. The number has since risen to 169. An estimated 21 million people tweet worldwide.
Eighty percent of the congressional Twitter postings reviewed by the U-Md. researchers fell into two categories: links to news articles and press releases, mostly self-serving and readily available elsewhere; and status updates that chronicle the pol's latest trip to the sawmill or the supermarket. The researchers announced their findings this week and hope to present them at an international conference on human-computer interaction in the spring.
"Twitter by its nature is a very self-absorbed service," said Jennifer Golbeck, lead researcher and assistant professor in the university's College of Information Studies. "Politicians are very self-important people."
Many Twitter postings read like very short press releases. We learn from Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), for example, that he is working to help Iowans as they contend with all of the flooding throughout the state. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) advises: On Rachel Maddow right after this commercial break. Tune in!
While few politicians have bared their souls on Twitter, some have nonetheless managed to tweet themselves into trouble.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) caught flak in February when he posted Just landed in Baghdad, inadvertently posing a security risk for his congressional delegation. He drew criticism again in June for likening the tumult in Iran to Republican conflicts with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The irony here, said U-Md. researcher Justin Grimes, is that politicians seem to be putting less thought and deliberation into their Twitter messages, posted for all to see, than they might devote to, say, an old-fashioned e-mail.
"It's so easy to type 140 characters," Grimes said. "You don't think about it. You just send it."
Because members of Congress spend just 7 percent of their time interacting with citizens, some believe that Twitter could bring constituents closer to their leaders and fulfill some of the promise of Twitter.
The researchers rate Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) the best tweeter in her chamber and Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.) tops in his.
McCaskill has the second-most followers among congressional tweeters (more than 32,000), trailing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has more than 1.3 million. She says she reads all her Twitter correspondence. Her page is a compendium of personal replies to constituents and snippets of life that sound authentic. Here's one from earlier this month: Yes @tigeranniemac that was me at Target in the soap aisle. You shoulda said hi. Was with my daughter Lily. We're very friendly.
Culberson has the most active Twitter site in Congress. Like McCaskill, he engages regularly with his constituents on Twitter, and he has used his page to challenge the Democratic leadership, as he did in this July post: Pelosi regularly turns off the microphone on the House floor, shuts off amends, & debate, shuts out all public sunlight, & gets away w it.
Culberson was an early tweeter and considers himself "an active proselytizer for social media among my colleagues." That may partly explain why the U-Md. researchers found that Republicans outnumbered Democrats on Twitter 2-1.
Culberson sees a coming revolution in online politics. But it might not happen on Twitter. Lately, the Texan has been spending more time on Facebook.
Republican New Media Caucus Letter of Support for Internet Advertising
Posted by staff on September 18, 2009