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Twittering from the 'darkest and deepest hole in Congress'

Texas rep uses Twitter to post live updates from the House floor and to answer questions

By Heather Havenstein
June 13, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - It is not often that a member of the U.S. House of Representatives describes the House floor as the "darkest and deepest hole in Congress."

But that is exactly the description Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.) used June 7 on microblogging site Twitter in response to a question. Culberson has been a bit of a blogosphere celebrity since May 26, when he began using his Twitter account to post live updates about votes in the House of Representatives, and to answer questions from constituents. At last count, more than 230 people are following his updates.

One update, on June 12, informed his Twitter audience: "I just voted against a Democratic bill to let states charge federal taxpayers for the cost of putting people on unemployment insurance." That same day he also noted, "On the floor; last votes of the week; once again no vote permitted to find our troops around the world; Pentagon starts to run out of money."

The aforementioned description of the House floor as a dark hole in Congress came from an exchange between Culberson and Gabriela Schneider, communications director of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group formed in 2006 to make Congress more transparent through the use of the Internet.

In their online exchange on Twitter, Culberson noted that "major bills like Farm Bill [and] Iraq War funding bill were written in total secrecy by a handful of people and then filed the night before floor vote with no committee hearing, and then floor amendments are either prohibited or limited."

He went on to suggest that Schneider's group monitor all bills to determine the time between when they are filed and when they are taken up on the floor for debate, and to check on how much spending they call for. "This is where Democracy is being killed every day -- on the floor," he noted.

Ellen Miller, co-founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, noted in a blog post Wednesday that Culberson uses Twitter effectively. "That is, he does not use Twitter just as a vehicle to push blog posts (or has a staffer Tweet for him), but engages in conversations and gives a great glimpse on his daily activities," she noted. "It's refreshing to see a member of Congress who personally Tweets updates about his work as a legislator, often from the House floor. We love that he talks specifically about bills being considered in real time so we know how he is going to vote on a pending bill and why."

Twitter is also being used by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and by the clerk of the House of Representatives, who writes posts with updates on floor activities.

The use of Twitter in the Congress is just part of the growing use of the microblogging site. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been providing updates on Twitter about its Phoenix Mars Lander project, and some businesses have been using Twitter as a way to monitor customer comments and complaints.

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