Loose Tweets Sink Fleets, Congressman
US Representative John Culberson (R-TX) tweeted loudly in the spirit of Paul Revere:
"They want to require prior approval of all posts to any public social media/internet/www site by any member of Congress!!!"
Luckily, Revere didn’t have quite the mouthful to warn of the arrival of the Red Coats—he didn’t have Twitter, either. Culberson’s alarm was rung just hours after he discovered and tweeted about a nefarious Democrat plot to prevent members of the House of Representatives from posting to Web 2.0 citizen media channels like YouTube and Twitter:
"I just learned the Dems are trying to censor Congressmen’s ability to use Twitter Qik YouTube Utterz etc – outrageous and I will fight them "
He still had room for "varmints" there at the end and some "green horny toads!" Shame the Texas Congressman doesn’t utilize the 140 characters available to him. He does, however, tweet with the frequency of a twelve-thumbed quail in a BlackBerry patch.
Culberson has promised all day to corner those responsible—namely Bobby Brady (okay, "Robert Brady," D-PA), who is chairman of the Congressional Committee on Mailing Standards, and Michael Capuano (D-MA)—and Qik them. His concern stems from a letter Cupuano sent to Brady regarding the Committee on House Administration’s and the Franking Commission’s approval of official content posted outside the House.gov domain.
Maybe Culberson will find out when he Qiks them, since he ignored both TechDirt’s Mike Masnick’s and Tim O’Reilly’s tweeted sleeve tugs (among others), that the letter is actually about loosening current restrictions, which regulate how Congressmen can use mass communication devices from telephones to email. That is, Culberson’s upset about an already existing law regarding official content (is a tweet official?), and has pinned the blame for it on rival party members.
Those rival party members did seem to be looking for a way to extend the Committee on House Administration’s and the Franking Commission’s authority to Congress’s use of websites and social media sites. Extending centralized authority would be alarming to any self-respecting Jeffersonian Republican, no doubt.
However, Capuano’s goal in his letter, while extending authority into where Culberson must have considered a Wild West for talkative Congressmen (it wasn’t), was to make it easier for members of the legislature to communicate to large groups of constituents outside the official government channels. As more in Congress become web-savvy and make use of web video especially, Capuano reports modern communicative possibilities far exceed the capacity of the government website. In short, we just ain’t got the bandwidth for what the hipper legislators want to do here.
But restrictions on Congressional speech? Like it or not, they were there well before, set in place (presumably) as a safeguard against classified, incomplete, inaccurate, or damaging content being released en masse to the public by a US Congressman. Capacity for abuse? Definitely. But, unlike how Culberson seems to feel about himself, one cannot (currently) be simultaneously a legislator and a member of the press, not even the citizen media.