Twitter Comes To The State Capitol
HARTFORD, Jan 31, 2013 (The Hartford Courant - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
At noon on Wednesday, State Rep. Betty Boukus didn't know much about Facebook and Twitter.
"I personally am not socially active," said the 69-year-old Democrat from Plainville as she brushed past people typing and talking into their iPhones at the state Capitol complex. "Well, I'm socially active but just not on the computer."
But at 69, Boukus is eager to learn, which is why she signed up for a one-on-one seminar on social media led by officials from Twitter and Facebook.
"This is something I do want to come up to date on," said Boukus, who still carries her Samsung flip phone. "I think this is a good tool to communicate with constituents."
Facebook and Twitter are transforming American politics at every level. But for every Barack Obama, who employed a sophisticated digital strategy during the 2012 campaign, or U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, a skilled tweeter, there's a Betty Boukus.
The two companies are reaching out to elected officials, showing them how to use their products to connect with voters, shape the dialogue and present their points of view. Katie Harbath, manager of public policy at Facebook, and Jack Fleming, an official at Twitter, came to Connecticut to gently ease lawmakers such as Boukus into the social media age.
"Traditional sources of media are fractured these days," said Sen. Bob Duff, a Democrat from Norwalk who organized seminar and is active on both platforms. "As legislators and elected officials, we have to put information out there."
Just as some lawmakers were learning the how-to's of hashtagging, a social media controversy was swirling around one of their colleagues. Sen. Beth Bye, a Democrat from West Hartford, faced criticism from political opponents for being on her Facebook page during Monday's contentious and lengthy hearing on gun policy at the state Capitol.
Bye said she was using Facebook to communicate with constituents. She does not serve on the subcommittee pondering changes to the state's gun regulations but said she felt it was important to attend.
Some gun enthusiasts said they it offensive that she was on social media while people were testifying at the hearing. A picture of Bye, who has advocated for stronger gun laws, went viral and she was inundated with criticism.
"I was posting about Newtown and gun safety and getting a lot of feedback from constituents about it," Bye said Wednesday. "I was in a hearing on a snowy evening that a lot of people in my district care about, and I was tweeting and Facebooking about it."
Bye, a prolific user of both platforms, said the downside of social media is that "every single word can be misconstrued." She took her Twitter page down following the criticism.
Harbath, who oversaw the National Republican Senatorial Committee digital strategy before coming to Facebook, said citizens like having access to their elected officials, whether through social media or in person. "Legislators who want to be keeping constitutents up to date in a real time basis, while also talking to people...just makes our democracy a better place," Harbath said.
About Bye, she added, "I believe that she had the best intentions in mind."
Harbath has been traveling the country holding similar sessions with lawmakers. While attendance for her Connecticut seminar was somewhat sparse, the state "has actually got a pretty robust social media usage," she said, "and the representatives do think it's important and want to learn more."
That's the case with Boukus. "I'm glad they're here because its forcing me to learn," she said. "I still like the old way, where you go out into the public but you can't reach that many people like that."
The seminar prompted Boukus to take another baby step into the digital era: she's giving up that old-school flip phone in favor of a smart phone.
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