Wow. Our experiment is off to a great start—let's see if we can finish it off sooner than expected.
Which members of Congress are on Twitter? A lot of them, it turns out. A new report (PDF) by the Congressional Research Service examines the use of Twitter by representatives and senators during August and September of 2009:
The data show that 205 Representatives and Senators are registered with Twitter (as of September 30, 2009) and issued a total of 7,078 "tweets" during the data collection period of August and September 2009. With approximately 38% of House Members and 39% of Senators registered with Twitter, Members sent an average of 116 tweets per day collectively.
Unsurprisingly, member use of Twitter mirrors that of regular people: many registered members don't tweet at all, while a few members are responsible for a big chunk of the tweets. Half of the members of Congress on Twitter sent 20 or fewer tweets during August and September. But "16 Members sent more than 100 tweets," according to the report. Members of the House tweet far more often than Senators, and House Republicans are far more active tweeters than House Democrats. (Senate Republicans tweet slightly more frequently than Senate Democrats.)
The most interesting part of the CRS report focuses on the content of members' tweets. The authors of the study classified all the tweets they looked at into eight categories: position taking, policy statements, media or public relations, district or state, official or congressional action, personal, campaign, and other. Bottom line?
At this time, Twitter largely facilitates a one-way transmission of information from Members to the public. Members use Twitter to convey information about their official actions, press appearances, or policy positions. Given the limited data available thus far, a two-way exchange of information or policy dialogue appears less frequent.
That's also unsurprising, but it's too bad. It would be good for everyone if more Americans thought their representatives were hearing their concerns. Anyway, one more item. While the median representative had 1,297 followers, and the median senator had 3,536, one senator is the undisputed king of congressional twitterers: Sen. John McCain. He has over 1.7 million.
(h/t: Steven Aftergood)