GOP Joins the Twittering Masses

President George W. Bush wasn't exactly what you'd call an active user of "the Internets."

And, during the presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain admitted his own lukewarm relationship with the computer.

But now that the GOP is without a branch of government to call its own, Republicans in Congress are turning to technology's latest trend to re-establish their political power, 140 characters at a time.

Fifty members of Congress use the micro-blogging service Twitter to communicate with constituents, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan watchdog group that advocates for greater transparency through technology.

One might think that the party of our BlackBerry-wielding, text-happy president would be the one to lead the way in this ever-expanding Twitter-verse.

But, in Congress, it appears that, according to Sunlight, Twittering Republicans outnumber their Democratic counterparts almost 2 to 1.

"It is ironic, but they're in the process of rebranding themselves," Thomas Whalen, a political historian at Boston University, told ABCNews.com, adding that Republicans partly attribute their loss in November to Barack Obama's tech-savviness.

"Because they're the party of the outs, it behooves them to open the government," he said.

Twitter Goes to Washington

Twitter is an especially convenient way to communicate with potentially thousands of people at once because it lets posters "tweet" from cell phones, smartphones and computers. All tweets -- 140-character messages -- are sent to the user's Twitter page online, but others can sign up to receive them via their own cell phones, smartphones and computers.

But, until October 2008, this and other components of the Web 2.0 frenzy were technically off-limits to members of Congress.

The rules governing Congressional communication with constituents -- known as Franking rules -- prohibited the use of third-party sites, such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

But, determined to "Let Our Congress Tweet," the Sunlight Foundation waged a Twitter-based campaign to bring the U.S. government into the 21st century. The group started actively urging Congress to alter its rules in 2007 and, as Twitter gained popularity, the foundation ramped up its efforts in 2008. By October, both the House and Senate had removed their restrictions.

"[This was] a real step forward for the country," said Micah Sifry, co-founder and editor of TechPresident.com, a group blog that tracks the relationship between technology and the opening up of government. "It's making a little bit clearer what our public officials do all day."

In addition to clarifying an often mysterious legislative process, Sifry pointed out that Twitter is also creating a new kind of public record.

"It's interesting because it does establish an additional baseline," Sifry said. "They can later try to obscure it, but one thing that's very cool about the Web is that it doesn't forget that easily."

Twitter as Protest Tool

Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, is widely known as one of the most prolific "tweeters" on Capitol Hill. He has 6,080 followers and usually posts several messages a day.

Since May 2008, he's come to the House floor armed with both a BlackBerry and a video camera-equipped Nokia, brazenly flouting rules that prohibited the use of cell phones on the House floor.

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