Mon April 9, 2012
Digital Politics

#COleg: Twitter Use Explodes At The Capitol

The use of Twitter and its short 140 character messages has spread fast and furiously inside the Capitol. Virtually every lawmaker has an account, as do the capitol watchers, think tanks, lobbyists, and reporters.

"You spend as much time talking about what people tweeted as you do what people actually said"

-- Democratic Representative Dan Pabon of Denver.

With so many people using it to describe events happening in real time, Pabon says Twitter is making government more transparent.

"Twitter allows, sort of takes away, that guarded shroud of public office. For better or worse, allows you to really put more of yourself out in the public sphere. I don't think it really feels like, when you tweet something, that you're actually making it super public."

It is public, and once a tweet is out there, you can't take it back. Republican Senator Greg Brophy from Wray has been on Twitter since 2008; he says though that the service has really taken off this year. He uses Twitter to show constituents his human side and help shape the news.

"I can take a position on something fairly quickly and drive the news cycle myself. I hate to say people are lazy, but, if it's just handed to you right there in front of you - well here's what so and so said on Twitter. That is now becoming quotable in story."

In fact, Brophy has driven his own news cycle when he tweeted last month about Sandra Fluke. Progressives railed against Brophy for tweeting:



Brophy says he doesn't regret the tweet, it actually help him pick up more Twitter followers.

"I rarely post things without thinking about them. I'd actually tried that line out with a number of people at Republican gatherings and it was very well received."

The back and forth also extends to policy debates.

During recent budget negotiations there were constant tweets from press offices, legislative leaders, and journalists. Republican speaker of the house Frank McNulty was  tweeting his own, calling out Democrats.




"I think that it does provide an insight into where folks are coming from and how they act and react". McNulty worries that 140 characters lends itself to over simplification and that Twitter will make things too informal.

"In some ways it takes us back to the formation of our country, where, people were printing pamphlets under anonymous names or under pseudonyms and were distributing information that way. And now we have what really is the Wild West again, on the internet."

It’s also changed how journalists do their jobs.

"It's that whole instantaneous news cycle accelerated to the Nth degree when you are talking about Twitter"

-- Patrick Malone, The Pueblo Chieftain.

Malone says there is little fact checking or room to get two or three perspectives in one tweet. However, reporters for his paper and others are encouraged to tweet. The Capitol following right now, though, is mainly for insiders who want a behind the scenes picture. You can take a peek into that following with the hashtags #coleg and #copolitics.

"I think the whole industry is still trying to establish the parameters around it. When is it appropriate to live tweet a whole event? Are we boring our audience? Are we Twitter-puking? As I've heard used about one of our colleagues who is a very prolific tweeter."

That would be John Schroyer.

He's a Colorado Springs Gazette reporter who has been on Twitter for less than 4 months, but has already racked up a large following. By his estimation he's tweeted up to 500 times in a single day - sometimes using Twitter as a replacement for taking notes.

"It can actually be sometimes hard to pay stricter attention to what is going on, just because, I feel like I’m, you know, actually pounding out tweets so fast and so often that I occasionally look up and be like, oh, what did he say? Who exactly is this guy? It's still fun, but that's one of the challenges.”

He also gets teased for tweets like this:



And also maybe this one:



Democratic Senator Pat Steadman of Denver finds that this personal side of the press is informative.

"You do see a lot of their personality, and also their biases, in their tweets. And it's interesting to see how they really feel, or how they’re really perceiving what's happening - and then the balanced, journalistic, professional way they write their stories. They're two different things."

Steadman notes that Twitter is distracting and can get you in trouble if you're not careful. But as a recent convert, he finally gets that it's not just a kid thing, but a crucial tool.

You can follow me too, I'm @BenteBirkeland at the Capitol.

KUNC Digital Media Manager Jim Hill (@ejimbo_com) contributed to the web version of this story.