Congress's New Love Affair with Twitter

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One of those stories was about Hoekstra's trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced that in the wake of the Hoekstra controversy, it was reviewing its policies for briefing lawmakers in advance about trips to war zones. Despite the questioning of Hoekstra's disclosures by staffers in Congress and the Pentagon, the experience has not deterred the lawmaker from Twitter. "Sure, I give [my press secretary] heartburn, but I think that's one of the things that makes Twitter attractive, that it doesn't go through a filter and a screen," Hoekstra says. "Normally, I have my staff write a press release, then I give feedback, then they rewrite it. This is direct."

So direct, in fact, that until recently, Representatives weren't even allowed to use sites like Twitter. But last summer, Representative John Culberson, a Texas Republican who not only posts Tweets but video-blogs on Twitter, helped organize a petition to allow members broader access to social-networking sites. Culberson cornered Michael Capuano, chairman of the House Franking Commission (officially the Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards) in a corridor with a video-enabled cell phone to ask him about opening up the rules. Such moves led to a protest website,, and Twitter's first petition. The rules were relaxed in October. "The freshmen especially, who used new communications and social media effectively on the campaign trail, realize the importance of engaging constituents online," says Gabriela Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Sun Light Foundation, which encourages more transparency in Congress and maintains a website that tracks Representatives on Twitter.

Of course, if you've ever spent any time on Facebook or Twitter, you know that much of what people post is simply the boring minutia of daily life. Did we really need to know what Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley was doing for New Year's? ("I didn't stay up to see Ball drop. I will watch Hawkeyw ftball. Otherwise read. Not a very exciting new year celebration but tradition for me.") Or that McCaskill broke her diet on Saturday and had a chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce? Probably not, but if Americans really want an unvarnished look at their elected Representatives, perhaps such mundane details are the price of admission.

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