Rep. Jared Polis was recognized recently for his social media savvy. He has just shy of 40,000 Twitter followers.
Kiriakos added that the gap between nuanced policy information and fodder about current events is enhanced by strict regulations in the Congressional handbook for websites and social media.
Under the rules, Members are barred from using private advertisements, and they also can’t engage in campaigning, “grass-roots lobbying” or attempts to “solicit support” for a given policy position. This category also prohibits even a link to campaign or advocacy websites.
“That does significantly play into the content that is posted,” Kiriakos said. “We’re using official government resources to communicate with our constituents.”
At its best, however, Kelly envisions technology informing policy debates the way it did during the heated debate over online piracy legislation.
Silicon Valley Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) took directly to the user-generated social media site Reddit and posted on Facebook about the Stop Online Piracy Act, voicing support for a “blackout” organized across major websites such as Wikipedia, Google and Reddit.
Lofgren detailed the Congressional process necessary to defeat the bill and also reposted a document by a group of California lawyers that explained the bill’s various components in plain English.
“It went viral,” Kelly said. “This is the type of thing that Members can do via constituents to inform the substance of the debate.”
SOPA might have been a unique case because of how the issue resonated among the technologically literate. Kiriakos questioned the viability of more sustained involvement in niche technology like Reddit.
“It takes a lot of staff time, and I question the benefit at the end of the day,” Kiriakos said. When Members try to promote policy positions across multiple media platforms, from YouTube to Tumblr to Reddit, “the message gets muddled,” he said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.