Today's Question: Twitter utilized by lawmakers at state, federal level

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | 12:39 p.m. CDT

In the last year, Twitter has grown into one of the most popular social networking sites on the Internet. The micro-blogging Web site allows users to post messages up to 140 characters for their followers to read.

The site has also become popular among public figures. Professional athletes such as Shaquille O’Neal and actors such as Jimmy Fallon regularly post updates on the site and have garnered hundreds of thousands of followers.

The site is also rapidly making its way into the political realm. Barack Obama has made more than 260 updates to his page since April 2007. And now Twitter is gradually making an impact on Missouri politicians.

More than two dozen Missouri House members, four senators and more than 100 federal lawmakers such as Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., — who has more than 200,000 Twitter followers — are also using the service.

The site enables greater transparency in the House as lawmakers send updates alerting their followers of bills being brought up for debate. It has also been used to encourage direct dialogue between politicians and citizens.

But not everything about the site is beneficial. Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, recently told the Associated Press that cell phone use on the House floor is a “serious detriment” to what lawmakers are trying to accomplish.

It is also unclear what kind of legal protection “tweets” receive. Debates on the floor are constitutionally protected from libel claims to encourage free discussion, but communications law professor Sandy Davidson said there is an expectation to show more restraint with written messages.

As more lawmakers use Twitter to chastise their political opponents, there is a growing concern of an impending Twitter scandal.

Do you think Twitter use on the House floor is beneficial or detrimental to what lawmakers are trying to accomplish?

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