by Chuck Brackney
The rise in the use of various social media tools and outlets such as Twitter and Facebook by groups associated with state legislatures has caught the eye of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), resulting in some interesting new research as well as educational webinars.
NCSL has created an online source for tracking the social media activity of legislative agencies as well as partisan caucus groups. It has found that no fewer than 48 states have at least some social media presence.
NCSL has found that, by far, the most frequent use of Facebook by state legislative groups is done by political parties. For example, the Ohio House of Representatives Democratic Caucus and the Rhode Island Senate Republicans both have pages on Facebook.
There are a handful of non-partisan Facebook pages, such as the one for the West Virginia legislature, which features news about members as well as updates on legislative business.
Twitter is also heavily used by political parties as part of the legislative process. However, the research by NCSL shows that twitter is also used extensively by non-partisan legislative staff to an extent not seen with Facebook. At least 28 states have some non-partisan presence on Twitter.
A good example of the use of twitter by a legislative staff is found at the California Office of the Legislative Analyst (@LAO_CA), which provides non-partisan fiscal and policy advice to the California Legislature. The Michigan Legislature maintains separate twitter accounts for bill activity (@michiganleg), committee meetings (@MichiganMeeting), and laws (@MichiganLaws).
Utah may be the state most heavily involved in social media, with the Utah House of Representatives and Senate using not only Facebook and Twitter, but also maintaining blogs and uploading video content to YouTube and Ustream, audio to SoundCloud, and photos and other visual material to Pinterest, Picasa, and Flickr. The House also reaches out via the Google+ website. The Utah Senate and House Democrats also are involved with blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. Utah legislative staff have characterized their expansive use of social media as “an ongoing experiment to see if we can add something meaningful” through the use of these online tools.
Colorado, of course, is also a player in the social media game. In addition to this blog run by the staff of the Office of Legislative Legal Services, both OLLS and Legislative Council Staff have Twitter accounts at @olls and @ColoradoLCS, respectively. Individual House and Senate committees keep their Twitter followers up to date on the latest goings on via accounts such as @COAgComm, @COJudiciaryComm, and @COEducationComm. And activity by the partisan caucuses spikes during the heavy months of legislative activity on accounts like @ColoSenGOP, @COSenDem, @COHouseDem, and @COHouseGOP. Senate Republicans and House Democrats also sponsor Google+ accounts.
Finally, much back and forth tweeting can be seen by searching the hashtag #COLeg, again especially from January until May each year.
The complete NCSL list of state legislative social media activity can be found here.
Social Media Policy and Resources
The page can be found here.
Webinars are also a component of NCSL’s resources for information about social media and state legislatures. One such program, which may be accessed here, features three experts in law and ethics talking about some of the current and future issues surrounding the use of social media by legislators. These include whether a member’s Twitter account may be accessed through an open records request, whether a discussion among members that takes place on Facebook is subject to open meetings requirements, and whether personal use of social media on state computer equipment is proper. The program also lists a number of tips for members and institutions considering taking the leap into the world of social media.