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It’s common to see members of Congress tweeting or posting on Facebook. Not as many lawmakers have taken to Google Plus and Google Hangouts, although members on both sides of the Dome seem to be warming to the medium.
Staff at Google are helping elected officials learn to use the tools it has to offer. Specifically, the Politics and Causes team at Google Plus has introduced Hangouts — free online video chats — to some members of Congress by talking them through the platform’s features and offering best practices.
“More and more elected officials are turning to Google+ to get beyond the beltway and talk to their constituents back home,” Ramya Raghavan, head of the Politics and Causes team, said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “Hangouts are an easy and effective way to communicate on important issues face-to-face.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, for instance, isn’t always able to accept invitations from schools to come visit in person, but he can pay a virtual visit to classrooms via Google Hangouts.
Since April 11, the Virginia Republican has hosted five Hangouts with students from schools in his district. The technology needed to participate in a Hangout is minimal: a computer with a camera and speakers. The chats are typically held from the convenience of Cantor’s office on Capitol Hill and last for about 30 minutes. The videos of the five Hangouts — the most recent of which was Oct. 22 — are not available online for the public to see, but Megan Whittemore, Cantor’s press secretary, said feedback from students and teachers has been positive.
A typical Hangout begins with an update from the majority leader on what’s going on in Washington. He then encourages the students to ask him questions, said Whittemore, who later added that Cantor wants the Hangouts to be interactive for students.
The majority leader uses Hangouts in an attempt to make government more open and transparent, Whittemore said. “This has always been a priority for the leader,” she said.
“Through Google Hangouts we are able to connect directly with students across Virginia who are interested in the political process,” Cantor said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “Engaging students and constituents online is a great way to provide a real time update about what’s going in Washington, answer questions and stay connected.”
Cantor is scheduled to host another Hangout with students on Thursday.
In addition to Cantor, Sen. Christopher S. Murphy regularly hosts Google Hangouts as a way to connect with constituents and answer their questions.