Capitol Hill Lawmakers Embrace Social Media

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Republicans have just ended a six-week new media challenge — claiming they have 40,000 new fans and followers. Democrats are competing to see who can get the most Facebook, Twitter and YouTube fans. So far, they have added 30,000 new fans.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Last week, a Republican congressman had a chance to ask questions at a hearing on the BP oil spill, and John Shimkus of Illinois said this.

Representative JOHN SHIMKUS (Republican, Illinois): I have 3,000 Facebook followers. I posed a question, now I'm going to get a chance to visit with you all today. I got 22 questions and response. We chose five of them.

INSKEEP: Congressman Shimkus is a Republican, and his party has just ended a six-week new media challenge for House members.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now, the Democrats are competing to see who can get the most Facebook, Twitter and YouTube fans. In Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office, Maureen Beach is the spokesperson for online media.

Ms. MAUREEN BEACH (Spokesperson, Online Media, Office of Representative Steny Hoyer): People, I think, were skeptical. But once people got into it, they really got into it.

MONTAGNE: Like Jared Polis, congressman from Boulder, Colorado. He upped the ante with his Web site, which features a tiny image of him walking across the screen.

Representative JARED POLIS (Democrat, Colorado): Keep up with what I'm up to by signing up on this Web site to follow me on email, Twitter, Facebook or YouTube and sign up for our e-newsletter. Thanks for visiting and enjoy your stay. Beam me up, Scotty.

(Soundbite of "Star Trek" transporter sound effect)

MONTAGNE: So far, Democratic House members are claiming some 30,000 new followers and fans. And the GOP finished its contest with 40,000.

INSKEEP: Sounds like a lot, although John Wonderlich is unimpressed.

Mr. JOHN WONDERLICH (Policy Director, Sunlight Foundation): I would put very little stock in those numbers.

INSKEEP: Wonderlich is with the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for social media in politics. He says people might un-follow or de-fan their members of Congress later.

Mr. WONDERLICH: But ultimately, if this results in a few more members doing a little bit better at setting up a two-way dialogue with their constituents, then I think that's worth its weight in gold.

MONTAGNE: Particularly ahead of this fall's election, members can't campaign through their official accounts. But...

Mr. WONDERLICH: Both sides have every incentive to say: We are not connected to you. We're dynamic. We're continuing to figure out new and better ways to represent you.

MONTAGNE: There's another incentive - for the Democrats, at least: Whoever gets the most followers by competition's end gets a prize.

INSKEEP: A Twitter bird mounted on an old trophy stand.

(Soundbite of song, "Everybody Tweet")

Ms. LYNN ROSE (Singer): (Singing) Everybody tweet, tweet. Everybody tweet, tweet, tweet. Everybody tweet, tweet. Everybody tweet, tweet. Come on and follow me into the state of now. At the speed of light, I'm going to break it down. (unintelligible). Baby, come and let me show you how. Everybody tweet, tweet. Play along...

INSKEEP: And you can, of course, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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