Feb. 11, 2016

As Twitter Expands, So Will Its Need for Lobbyist

It’s a time-honored pattern in Washington. A new technological marvel appears, and its proprietors — at least initially — pay little heed to Congress and the potential havoc that federal lawmakers can wreak. Witness Microsoft and Google, which were flourishing entities before finally wising up and staffing substantial D.C. outposts.

Twitter seems to be following suit. So far it does not appear to have a D.C. lobbyist or media consultant. But it does have one thing Microsoft and Google didn’t have: a loyal constituency of Members, many of whom have an up-close and personal relationship with the social-networking service.

So far, however, Twitter executives are taking a decidedly casual approach to the regulatory and legal morass they one day might face.

Twitter management did not respond to repeated requests to discuss the company’s lobbying plans. Secretary of the Senate records show that Twitter has not opened a K Street office. And there are no suggestions in news accounts that Twitter has hired an in-town public relations firm, either.

So for now, Twitter Chairman Jack Dorsey and CEO Evan Williams appear to be going it alone, promoting their product themselves to lawmakers, the executive branch and to the wider public on television talk shows.

But given the privacy and liability issues at stake, influence-makers warn that the company risks making amateur mistakes that could have dramatic consequences.

By leaning too heavily on its sudden popularity, particularly among Twitter-evangelizing lawmakers, it may only be a matter of time before its issues — and its bottom line — are at stake.

“In addition to death and taxes, the only certainty in life is that Congress and federal agencies will seek to regulate emerging technologies,” commented one telecom lobbyist. “That’s why you have to be in Washington to explain the nuances of the technologies and the benefits to society.

“Like moths to a flame, media attention attracts legislative and regulatory attention,” the lobbyist added. “Legislators just can’t help themselves.”

According to Web traffic provider Alexa.com, Twitter’s popularity began to surge in early 2009.

The privately held company, which started in 2006, grew steadily in popularity toward the end of 2008 and has grown some 150 percent in the past three months alone.

The Web site’s sudden popularity nationwide appears to have coincided with an obvious uptick in high-profile users, celebrities and politicians that undoubtedly helped vault the online application — until recently a Web gadget known only to urban hipsters, high school students and technophiles — into the stratosphere.

Twitter was the 35th most popular Web site on the Internet last week, according to Alexa.

Actor Ashton Kutcher tweets. President Barack Obama apparently tweets as well — to 1.6 million followers using 140 characters or less. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) tweets, as does libertarian icon Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

But no Member appears to be more Twitter-inclined than Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who first encountered the Web site by way of her teenagers. McCaskill’s office declined to speak on the record about the company, but the Show Me State lawmaker is well-known as one of the Web application’s most prolific users, posting more than 750 items and boasting some 28,000 followers.

The Senator typed out her first message just days before Obama’s inauguration, apparently to update constituents without tickets on the festivities.

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