I was recently listening to the newly relaunched “Decode DC” podcast, a show about Washington politics from insiders. In it, the host, Andrea Seabrook, explained that members of Congress get so much contact from lobbyists and constituents that they completely ignore social media. The rationale is that there is no way for staffers to verify that the person writing is even a constituent. This filtering has become so necessary, that if you call from an area code outside of the Representative or Senator’s district, the first question the staffer asks is what is the caller’s home address. Unless you’re in that member’s district, they really just don’t care.
Which makes sense. Why waste precious time taking feedback from people who have no impact on whether or not you get re-elected?
But what this means is that what we all feared is true. Facebook and Twitter are largely useless as a means to affect change on the activities of your members of Congress. Ultimately, you’re going to be much better off writing them a letter or an email that contains your home address. In fact, driving people to lobby their Congressperson through social media, as opposed to letters or email, is actually counterproductive.
Surely there is some way that modern technology, with its increased inter-connectivity and computing power, can actually help improve political activism today. For example, while Twitter and Facebook aren’t good lobbying tools for Congress, that doesn’t mean they don’t have their place in civic engagement. On the national level, they’re basically limited to keeping track of what your members are up to, what bills they are currently focused on, and where they’ll be out in public when they visit their constituents back home. It is on the State level where things get considerably more interesting.
Members of the Oklahoma legislature do not generally have staffers running their social media accounts, Twitter especially. Those that are active on Twitter, and many are not, are relatively accessible. In fact, a number of legislators will regularly joke around with their followers in much the same way any of us would on our own private accounts.
Twitter can be a great tool for providing real time feedback, and pointing State-level legislators to useful or relevant information on the topic they’ll be considering for vote. By following, and building an online relationship with legislators, you can have a strong impact on the way they look at potential votes.
To this end, I’ve created a spreadsheet with the Twitter handles for all Oklahoma Congressmen, the Governor and Lt. Governor, and most importantly the members of the Oklahoma House and Senate. You can also subscribe to a Twitter list that compiles all the Oklahoman legislators tweets into one handy feed.
I’m also in the process of creating a similar list for everyone who will be on the ballot in Oklahoma City during this upcoming election cycle. You can often get a much more intimate image of how a candidate thinks and what they consider important from their Twitter feed than from the policy section of the campaign website.
Finally, I’m currently in the alpha-testing stage of an Oklahoma Legislature bill tracking app. It will allow those interested in tracking a bill to get a text message whenever there is any activity.
For example, every bill is assigned a committee it must pass through before it ever sees the floor of the House or Senate. If you are tracking a bill, you’ll get a message when it is assigned to a committee, when it is voted out of committee, and when it is voted on in one of the two houses. This app should be available for use before the next legislative session.
*Editor’s note: We’ve created a bipartisan event page, Happy “Find Your Polling Buddies” Day!, for those who are interested in following along and contributing to the ever-evolving Oklahoma political conversation. We’ll announce deadlines for registering to vote in primaries, run offs, and in the statewide general election.