Congress

Hello Congress, goodbye Twitter followers

Official member accounts must follow different set of guidelines than campaign ones

New lawmakers will be starting from scratch to build their following on newly minted official accounts. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As new House members say hello to their new life on Capitol Hill, they’re also saying goodbye (for now) to their campaign social media accounts and the hordes of followers they’ve amassed.

Newly elected members have been sharing their experiences on social media, giving their followers a look at what it’s like to transition into Congress. But some of their social media fluency will be reined in to conform with strict guidelines on how officials can use their platforms.

Most freshman lawmakers have already launched their fresh accounts. They and their staffs are starting from scratch to build a following on newly minted accounts that clearly identify their position in Congress and with posts that are governed official rules.

Since Election Day, most lawmakers continued to use their campaign and personal accounts to chronicle their journey from candidate to Congress, posting photos of orientation, the office lottery and selfies with new friends on Capitol Hill.

But now that they’re sworn in, they have to follow a new set of rules. 

The Members’ Congressional Handbook specifies that lawmakers cannot use their official social media accounts for campaigning, grassroots lobbying or any kind of endorsement of a product or service.

So Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s enthusiastic recommendation for Instant Pot on her Instagram and Daniel Crenshaw’s glowing endorsement of sweeteyepatches.com on Twitter wouldn’t make the ethical cut on their official accounts.

Personal accounts or those used for campaigning are packed with old posts that count as campaigning and endorsements. While members can keep using those accounts, they cannot use any “official resources” on maintaining the accounts. That means no staff time and no office funds. And they can’t use the prestige of their current role on those accounts either. 

Most will keep them alive, since they’ll want to tap back into that base of followers as they mount runs for re-election in 2020. (It’s never too early to think about re-election, especially for House members.)

But new members have kicked off their new, official accounts and are scrambling for followers. Ocasio-Cortez started using her official @RepAOC Twitter account Tuesday. Within an hour of the first tweet, she had 2,823 followers. Not bad — but compared to the more than 2 million followers she has on her other account, it was a drop in the bucket.

Crenshaw put out a plea last week to encourage followers to also follow his new official handle @RepDanCrenshaw. Since then, he’s up to 130,314 followers, more than half the number on his campaign account.

Posts on official accounts “must be germane to the conduct of the Member’s official and representational duties,” according to the member handbook. Many are already posting about how the partial shutdown is affecting their constituents or the importance of a border wall. They’ll soon be posting about town hall meetings, constituent visits and nominations to the military service academies. 

The newcomers are social media pros, but in this rare instance, they may want to heed their senior colleagues’ social media prowess for following the rules. 

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.