Congress Moves to Close Member Access to Social Media

This article will take approx 8 minutes to read.

This post is receiving regular updates. Events are logged chronologically with newer information, comments from those involved including Rep. John Culberson below. I have been getting access to internal documents, letters and memos being sent around Capitol Hill. As I get these, I will sanitize and update accordingly. Sources will not be disclosed without their knowledge and approval.

The creeping lunacy in Washington continues. My favorite Congressmen, John Culberson (R-TX) and Tim Ryan (D-OH), are under fire for the use of social media tools such as Twitter and Qik. They are not specifically named in this document, but it is widely understood that these two congressmen, one a Democrat and one a Republican, are actively circumventing traditional bureaucratic communication lines and talking directly to the American people.

In some cases, these guys are talking to their own constituency, and other times they are talking to people like me who are not in their districts. Between live streaming video and Twitter, these guys “get” that the government is by the people and for the people.

Here is the letter sent to the Democratic House majority leadership to silence this nonsense.

Read this document on Scribd: Capuano letter

Ridiculous.

Rep. Culberson is indicating, via Twitter, that disclaimers have to be attached to tweets and that, without a doubt, those disclaimers WILL be greater than 140 characters. Lunacy.

Added: I usually turn trackbacks off but I’m going to turn them on for this post.

Added 2: Techdirt makes a good point. The wording of the letter does seem to indicate that Rep. Capuano is actually trying to get the existing House rules loosened to allow for this activity.

Added 3: The GOP Response to the above letter.

Read this document on Scribd: Ehler McCarthy Price

We’ll keep you updated as more information becomes available.

Added 4 (Wed July 9, 12:17pm): Erin, in comments, suggests everyone is going a little nuts and that there isn’t real journalism happening here. Here’s a few pieces from those in the political space that were written this morning.

  • Outside the Beltway – James points out that Diane Feinstein is pushing a proposal in the Senate to make the Senate Rules Committee clamp down on similar activity on the Senate side.
  • In the Washington Internet Daily, an off-web mainstream press publication (WTF?!), Rep Capuano is quoted saying, “[The Republicans] would rather operate without rules and open the House to commercialism, [and his proposal] allows the American public to have full access to information from Members while ensuring that taxpayer dollars do not support commercial or political advertising on the web.”
  • Zen Pundit finally realizes what I’ve been arguing. This is not a partisan thing but “on the technological merits alone this may be the goddamn dumbest thing I’ve heard of regarding the internet coming out of Congress in a long, long, time.”
  • Erin, who commented above, basically points out at BlogHer, that Culberson is playing politics and has stirred everyone up using Twitter. While I agree that this is a political play, plain and simple, my coverage of this entire story is not about politics but about policy. If the existing rules are antiquated, as the second letter above notes and everyone seems to agree on that point, change the rules now. This is 2008 and it is completely unacceptable to stick with rules that limit the participation in social media by Congressmen and women. I accept the need to avoid the appearance of commercialism, thus the “House channel” on YouTube, but I cannot accept this limitation on our elected Representatives, should they choose to talk to their constituency this way.
  • CongressDaily reporter Andrew Noyes wrote, “A Brady spokesman said his boss has been ‘kept up to speed’ on both proposals and ‘is supportive of anything that can be done to clarify rules that provide more options for members.’” (subscription only)

Added 5 (July 9, 10:17pm)
Rep. Capuano sent this letter (unconfirmed). I need this on House letterhead, Source! which is now on his website. If this is legitimate, I’m happy to put this to bed. On the House side. But will continue to monitor how this issue is proceeding.

Read this document on Scribd: Capuano-statement

We are also trying to confirm Sen. Diane Feinstein’s alleged move to implement tighter controls in the Senate and will keep you updated.

Andrew Feinberg had a Qik (quick, get it?) interview with Rep. John Culberson who seems to have cooled down a little.

Washington Internet Daily who has some crazy copyright ideas that prevented us from releasing stories broke most of this news around 6pm yesterday.

Also, there is an experimental “Twitter petition” happening via letourcongresstweet.org. Participate!

Added 6 (Wed, July 9 11:55pm EDT):

An early copy of an article to be published in tomorrow’s Washington Internet Daily. Featuring me. And quotes from Culberson.

Read this document on Scribd: CulbersonWID2

Update 7 (Thu, July 10 6:11am): Waiting on a yet-to-be-confirmed 6am call from NPR.

Whenever a subject of a story replies in the comments on this blog or, say, FriendFeed, I try to update the post with the comment. Rep. Culberson responded in comments so I add those here. Note, that I will do the same thing for Rep. Capubano, or Sen. Feinstein.

Aaron

You have done a great job of presenting both sides of this debate and giving readers source documents. Let me add what I learned today on the House floor.

I spoke to Cong. Mike Capuano,Chairman of House Franking, who is a good person and a friend. He confirmed that my analysis of where this rule change is going is correct. Today they are focused on YouTube and video posts – Twitter and blogs and social media are next.

Under this new proposed rule (which he said is fluid) Congressmen could only post video that complied with House rules (subject to review and editing by House Franking Committee)on websites that complied with House rules if the video contained a disclaimer that it was an official communication from a federal official for official purposes. He said that YouTube has already agreed to prepare a “œsanitized” (my word) special website just for members of Congress to post videos. The special page can have no ads and no political content and must be reviewed and approved by the Franking Committee.

He confirmed that websites like yours, Aaron, are next.

Since I am typing this in my official capacity for official purposes on a non approved website I am already in violation of existing House rules which would require me to submite each word of this post to House Franking Committee for editing and approval.

When Chairman Capuano says the change they are proposing will make it easier for us to post – that is true – if we don’t mind having all our posts edited and approved by Franking Comm, and if we don’t mind being limited to posting only on preapproved websites and if we don’t mind the mile long federal disclaimer on every post.

If they adopt this rule, the only way I could ever post again on Technosailor is if I complied with their rule and edits and if YOU agreed not to comment ever again on politics or campaigns or make any recommendations of any kind on politics. Your website would have to be completely free of politics, elections and any commercial content or ads. Plus you would have to submit to regular reviews and edits by House Franking Committee or lose your preapproved status for Congressional posts.

Twitter and every other social media source would have to submit to the same requirements or they will be off limits to Members of Congress.

Mike Capuano is a decent guy, and we need to encourage him to do the right thing here with lots of positive reinforcement.

I recommended to him that he and the committee simply leave the internet and social media alone – that he might as well try to regulate the wind.

We are elected by because we have demonstrated good judgment and common sense in the eyes of our constituents. Why not trust us to use social media appropriately in our official capacity using federal computers Blackberries, Nokia 95 phones etc for official business, and if we stray and make campaign pitches or seek personal financial gain, nail us for violating the law.

But leave the www alone. Otherwise this Congress will be remembered (in part) for its futile effort to regulate the wind in much the same way the Viking King Canute is still remembered for thinking he was so powerful he could order the ocean tide to stop.

Thanks

Keep up the pressure

Sunlight is the best disinfectant and Congress needs a lot of it

John Culberson

The Shelbinator is the voice of a growing number of people who are seeing through what is becoming a charade noting that the rules already exist. Not that they are good rules but rules are made to obey. As a sidenote, the more I follow the story, the more I’m inclined to agree. The military, for instance, doesn’t get the benefit of choosing which parts of the Uniform Code of Military Justice it adheres to. Employees of companies don’t get the “benefit” of sexually harassing another employee, despite having free speech. My opinion is that the rule needs to be changed and that is the current focus of my fight and the one that, I believe, Rep. Culberson should be focusing on.

Congressman, instead of being a rebel or vigilante, I suggest you summon allies to fight the Rules, but live within them until such change is made. The only outcome I see from going outside the rules right now is your censuring.

Venture Beat completely fails to acknowledge this coverage here. Interesting, especially, because I’ve been prominently linked from all over, including Mashable whom Eric Eldon cited. Venture Beat also links to the Capuano letter on Scribd. Why not this post, where he would have had to have found it (Can’t believe he happened to be surfing Scribd and just came across it)?

Added 8 (7:39am) – NPR interview on BPP. Polished recording when it becomes avaialble. This was a quick grab. Listen now.

Added 9 (4:02pm) – This document was passed to me. Again, since it’s not on official House Letterhead, I cannot confirm the authenticity but it is in line with what I’ve been hearing.

Read this document on Scribd: Feinstein Statement

Added 10 (July 11 12:02a)
This will probably be my last update unless something new comes up. Thank you all for following this very important story. Thanks also to Andrew Feinberg from Washington Internet Daily. He does not get enough credit for being a solid reporter and he should. Through all of this, Andrew has been in touch with me and has provided quite a bit of backstory and information that he personally dug up himself. The unfortunate matter is, the publication he writes for is silly enough to call itself Washington Internet Daily and doesn’t bother to put together any kind of coherent web presence, thus missing the opportunities that I was afforded yesterday on NPR.

This, from tomorrows WID, shows that the Senate seems to be taking a much saner approach than the House is:

Some senators worry about outside sites using data mining technology to
track viewers of official videos hosted off the senate.gov domain, Gantman
said. The committee kept a ban on data-mining the official domain because
YouTube has agreed to not track or log such data, he explained. Unlike the
heated back-and-forth dominating the House debate, Feinstein and Bennett are
working toward what they expect to be a unanimous agreement
among committee members, Gantman said.

Eric Eldon, over at Venturebeat (who has since linked this coverage – thanks!) made a level headed assesment of this whole matter which, after running this story for three days now, I fully agree with:

I think Capuano just doesn’t understand all of this new stuff and it shows. I don’t think he’s trying to censor Twitter. He explicitly said he’s not aiming to do that, although his poorly-phrased letter could lead one to think that.

Basically, I think everyone wants the same thing and I’m afraid that Culberson, Capuano … are too partisan.

Interestingly, the mainstream media has jumped all over this after several days of grassroots effort. Of course, I was on NPR yesterday morning and Scott Stead, over at CNN grabbed this coverage from the CNN situation room with Wolf Blitzer today.

This will be the last update, barring something new. However, the angst over this has gone far enough and I’m choosing to believe that, no one is going to act irrationally surrounding these rules. At the end of the day, Republicans and Democrats alike want one thing – more power for themselves. A deal will be brokered one way or another and we’ll cover it when it happens, no matter which way the the hammer falls.

Remember. Last Friday we celebrated 232 years in this country. We’ve survived without our Congresspeople using YouTube and Twitter. We can survive a little longer.

Over and out.

Comments

  1. says

    Oh geez.

    Because heavens forbid that U.S. *Representatives* might actually want to communicate with U.S. *Citizens* whom they are representing.

    “That there technology thing-a-majig? I don’t understand it. Therefor, you can’t use it.”

    Argh.

  2. says

    Aaron, good on you for writing about this and bringing it to your reader’s attention. This is exactly the type of battle I have to deal with as a consultant for the Federal Government on a daily basis. With this mentality, how are we ever going to move ahead and share all the knowledge and collaborate with one another.

    But its attitudes like this that is probably why we haven’t been able to brief congress on the value of Enterprise 2.0 with social media to create a cohesive and collaborative Government 2.0.

    I would think that the democrats would be smarter than this as they have such a successful case study of one of their own embracing social media, including twitter to get out their message, reach their constituents and educate at large. That case study would be Barack Obama. He is on twitter and has his own channel on youtube. Granted he is a senator, but to me that doesn’t make a difference. He is a member of their party, if not the one who will become President and he is pushing the edge of campaigning by utilizing these new methods of communication.

    I wonder if this was the same attitude and guidance that was passed around when computers and email was introduced.

  3. says

    I dunno, Aaron. I read the letter, and it doesn’t sound like anyone is “under fire” here. Depending on what comes out of the recommended reviews, it’s possible that the Bio section could be employed for disclaimer use.

    At least we have one example where government officials are trying to follow the rules! ;)

  4. says

    Heres how the House leadership will use this rule to control where and what I say and even exercise influence over your website/blog etc

    If the Ds rule change were in effect today, before I could post this, your website/blog would have to be preapproved as complying with House rules, my post would require a disclaimer that it was “produced by a House office for official purposes,” and the CONTENT of my post would have to preapproved by the House Franking Committee as complying with “existing content rules and regulations.”

    This is a violation of your First Amendment rights and mine, and is an outrageous attempt by House leadership to stifle and control you and me. If Rs were in charge I would be just as outraged – forget the party label – I do not want the federal gov’t/House of Representatives certifying your website or the content of my posts. I am writing this post personally, in my official capacity, so it would fall precisely under their new rule and you and I would both be in violation unless we subjected ourselves and my words to their prior approval/editing.

    I am always ready to admit I am wrong but I am an attorney and this is what the letter means.

    This is a story worth following because I am going to continue to vigorously exercise my First Amendment rights on every social media outlet I can reach. It is my right as an American and my duty as a representative.

  5. says

    Calm down, have some dip {seesmic_video:{“url_thumbnail”:{“value”:”http://t.seesmic.com/thumbnail/NnrlIq6fYJ_th1.jpg”}”title”:{“value”:”Calm down, have some dip ”}”videoUri”:{“value”:”http://www.seesmic.com/video/R1TY6gmWaI”}}}

  6. says

    {seesmic_video:{“url_thumbnail”:{“value”:”http://t.seesmic.com/thumbnail/8ksdGy0z1d_th1.jpg”}”title”:{“value”:” ”}”videoUri”:{“value”:”http://www.seesmic.com/video/VWwSPtsEV0″}}}

  7. says

    Aaron

    You have done a great job of presenting both sides of this debate and giving readers source documents. Let me add what I learned today on the House floor.

    I spoke to Cong. Mike Capuano,Chairman of House Franking, who is a good person and a friend. He confirmed that my analysis of where this rule change is going is correct. Today they are focused on YouTube and video posts – Twitter and blogs and social media are next.

    Under this new proposed rule (which he said is fluid) Congressmen could only post video that complied with House rules (subject to review and editing by House Franking Committee)on websites that complied with House rules if the video contained a disclaimer that it was an official communication from a federal official for official purposes. He said that YouTube has already agreed to prepare a “sanitized” (my word) special website just for members of Congress to post videos. The special page can have no ads and no political content and must be reviewed and approved by the Franking Committee.

    He confirmed that websites like yours, Aaron, are next.

    Since I am typing this in my official capacity for official purposes on a non approved website I am already in violation of existing House rules which would require me to submite each word of this post to House Franking Committee for editing and approval.

    When Chairman Capuano says the change they are proposing will make it easier for us to post – that is true – if we don’t mind having all our posts edited and approved by Franking Comm, and if we don’t mind being limited to posting only on preapproved websites and if we don’t mind the mile long federal disclaimer on every post.

    If they adopt this rule, the only way I could ever post again on Technosailor is if I complied with their rule and edits and if YOU agreed not to comment ever again on politics or campaigns or make any recommendations of any kind on politics. Your website would have to be completely free of politics, elections and any commercial content or ads. Plus you would have to submit to regular reviews and edits by House Franking Committee or lose your preapproved status for Congressional posts.

    Twitter and every other social media source would have to submit to the same requirements or they will be off limits to Members of Congress.

    Mike Capuano is a decent guy, and we need to encourage him to do the right thing here with lots of positive reinforcement.

    I recommended to him that he and the committee simply leave the internet and social media alone – that he might as well try to regulate the wind.

    We are elected by because we have demonstrated good judgment and common sense in the eyes of our constituents. Why not trust us to use social media appropriately in our official capacity using federal computers Blackberries, Nokia 95 phones etc for official business, and if we stray and make campaign pitches or seek personal financial gain, nail us for violating the law.

    But leave the www alone. Otherwise this Congress will be remembered (in part) for its futile effort to regulate the wind in much the same way the Viking King Canute is still remembered for thinking he was so powerful he could order the ocean tide to stop.

    Thanks

    Keep up the pressure

    Sunlight is the best disinfectant and Congress needs a lot of it

    John Culberson

  8. says

    Mr Culberson,

    Thank you. I try to remain as fair as I can. Feel free to contact me if there is anything you’d like to talk about regarding this or any other issue. My contact information is here.

    I’ll keep following the story as closely as possible and post it here as I can. I’ll also add your comment to the post in the morning update.

    Best,
    Aaron

  9. says

    Great post – and if you;d like – happy to go over the challenges that Congresspeople have to deal with walking that fine line of staying within the bounds and sharing in the concept of governing.

  10. Jen Zingsheim says

    This is an interesting exchange, and a good study in what can happen when an institution (of any kind) is trying to keep up with changing technology. A note: Franking privileges are among the most closely-watched because the nature of “communicating with constituents” at taxpayer expense can often be construed by the congressional opponent as being too-often used, moving the communication from “here’s what you need to know as my constituent” to “I’m sending you something every darn day so that you remember who I am at election time.” There’s also the question of official communications (having to do with the office) bleeding into stuff that’s so informal there’s a question as to whether it’s official communication (allowed on office equipment) to political communication (not allowed).

    It’s a fine line, and I’m all about the proper committees examining this closely. Clear direction and proper standards might not be in line with the free-wheeling nature of social media, but in this case, I think it’s critical.

  11. says

    Aaron,

    I’m really confused by your accusation that I didn’t credit you. I read Memeorandum and related political news sites for hours every day because I’m addicted to political news (yes, even though I cover tech). If you go look back on the VentureBeat archives, you’ll see that I’ve been covering other stories that intersect between politics and tech, before this issue ever came up.

    So, I neither found out about the issue from you. Nor — and I don’t mean this to be offensive — did I learn anything new from you.

    You’ll notice, for example, that I didn’t credit O’Reilly for anything in the story, even though I also respect him.

    Look, I’m most certainly not trying to pick a fight with you here. Just tell me what I’m wrong about and I’ll update my story.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  12. says

    Any attempt to curb communications of our elected officials to the people who elected them should be nipped in the bud.