Congressional debate goes Web 2.0 -- in protest

Republicans webcast debate over energy bill after House shuts down for vacation

The Republicans have taken their share of lumps -- especially during the current presidential campaign -- for not embracing Web 2.0 technologies and tools as warmly as the Democrats.

But that perception may be altered sharply after Friday's mini-uprising on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives that saw members Twittering, streaming live video and posting video to YouTube to protest the lack of a vote on an offshore drilling bill when the traditional means of communicating with the public, such as C-Span and microphones, were shut down after the House went into adjournment for several weeks of vacation.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) posted to microblogging site Twitter at a little before noon Eastern time on Friday that the Democratic leadership had ordered the lights shut off and the C-Span cameras turned off as the House was adjourned. However, Culberson and many other Representatives stayed to debate the energy bill and protest the lack of a vote on the measure. Culberson has pioneered using Twitter to blog during debates and votes. He has noted that he uses Twitter to shine light on the floor of the U.S. house, which he describes as the "deepest and darkest hole in Congress."

Culberson, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and others posted updates on Twitter on the debate as it continued into the afternoon.

  • At 11:42 a.m. Culberson posted on Twitter: "Update: now the Democratic leadership has shut off lights of the House as GOP. Members are speaking on the floor debating how we lower gas prices."
  • Then at 12:50 p.m., he noted, "We are speaking without microphones -- as though it were 1908 -- acoustics of House chamber are good and gallery and you can hear us."
  • At 3:30 p.m., he posted to Twitter that "I just told the House chamber We the People can take back the Capitol with these new media tools by networking and shining sunlight everywhere."

Culberson was also streaming video from his phone. With multiple parties Twittering, those posting from the floor eventually began to tag the posts so that they could all be searched on Twitter, and so those following the action could easily retrieve relevant posts.

With Friday's events, the House members involved showed that they are learning to play by the rules of "Politics 2.0," noted Bruce Gronbeck, director of the University of Iowa's Center for Media Studies and Political Culture.

"One of the great advantages of politicking online is the ability to control delivery technologies," he said. "When the House Republicans wanted to tell citizens that the Democrats wouldn't allow a vote on their energy bill, they went after young voters with messages on such short-message systems as Twitter and Qik, as well as the by-now tried-and-true YouTube. More mature voters in their base were sought out through such Web sites as and an array of conservative blogs. The scene was dramatic, with all of this action occurring after the House closed for its August recess on Friday night."

Without these Web 2.0 tools, these congressmen would have been forced to call a news conference and hoped that the networks would give them a few seconds of air time, he added.

"Last Friday, they decided that they could get more legs for their story on the Web," he added. "Maybe they will."

Julie Barko Germany, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet at George Washington University, added that the Republican party has recently come under fire for not fully embracing Web 2.0 technologies.

"The energy bill sit-in showed that Republicans can be just as savvy at using the Web as a word-of-mouth tool to publicize their efforts, maneuver around traditional media and mobilize support," she added. "Luckily for them, there is enough of a political mass on Twitter for something like this to spread virally."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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