More than 60 members of Congress just say no to Twitter’s 140 characters

Sixty-eight members of Congress have not joined Twitter, the social media platform that has become a force in politics.

Now that the majority of lawmakers, pundits, White House officials and think tanks are using Twitter with gusto in their daily messaging wars, it’s rare to find a political player who does not tweet.

But for a variety of reasons, 15 senators and 53 representatives are just saying no.

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Although a handful of congressional offices reported that they had not ruled out signing up for Twitter in the future, others deferred to a committee account rather than setting up a handle. Some said that they do not see the micro-blogging site as an effective tool to talk about policy.

And although the majority of the tweet-less lawmakers are over the age of 60, the holdouts aren’t all of the same generation. Reps. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) and Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), for example, are both in their 30s.

Boren, who said he prefers Facebook, acknowledged he is “in the minority” among both his age group and his colleagues, but said there’s good reason to be wary of Twitter.

“I’m not big on jumping on something that doesn’t allow you to have time to think it through,” he told The Hill. “Too many people I’ve seen have sent tweets out that get them into trouble.”

But Boren also said the popularity of Twitter in Congress would have eventually persuaded him to sign up, were he not retiring this year.

Many of the lawmakers who aren’t on Twitter said they can’t communicate their positions effectively in 140 characters or fewer. 

“We just don’t see a whole lot of value in Twitter overall compared to other methods of outreach,” said Hunter’s spokesman Joe Kasper. “It might be worthwhile for updating folks on what you just ordered at the drive-through, but not communicating positions on big issues. We might come around to using it, eventually. Though we are definitely not there yet.”

A spokesman for Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) said Twitter “places too many restrictions on the kind of effective and thorough communication that he thrives on.”

Rep. Wally Herger’s (R-Calif.) office said, “Twitter does not lend itself to” thorough explanations.

And the office of Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) said the lawmaker “prefers longer forms of communication.” 

“He has a website and a Facebook page, and he distributes information via email to subscribers. I can’t really imagine him tweeting, however,” said Petri’s spokesman.

Marcia Newbert, a digital strategist at the PR firm Edelman, said lawmakers are right to note Twitter’s limitations, and said the service is best used for “pulling back the curtain” on the legislative process.

“I think it probably is a unique situation for each office and they should figure out what works best for them in terms of staff resources to maintain comfort levels. … I don’t think there’s any real strategy in joining every social network just to check the box,” she said. 

“[But] people are communicating on Twitter, so if your office has the bandwidth and you’re interested in learning more or hearing more from your constituents, I think Twitter is a great way.”

The Hill looked at official congressional accounts to tally the number of lawmakers who aren't using Twitter. Had unofficial, personal accounts been included, the number of members who aren't using the service would have been lower.

Nearly a dozen of the lawmakers who shun Twitter are retiring at the end of this term. Nearly everyone in the Republican freshman class tweets, due in part to a nudge from House leaders who want the rank and file to stay connected with voters in their districts.

When the 112th Congress was sworn in last January, about 65 percent of the House and 60 percent of the Senate did not have a Twitter presence, according to Twitter’s politics team. Now that number is down to around 10 percent.

Almost all of the non-tweeting lawmakers use Facebook, and a large number who are running for reelection have a campaign presence on both networks.

“There’s so much more freedom on the campaign side,” said Vincent Harris, a GOP strategist who handled social media for the presidential campaigns of Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.

In part due to the complicated ethics restrictions on official communication, “official accounts are boring and bland and bureaucratic,” according to Harris. “I don’t see a need for every member of Congress to have an official account ... except for perception. I don’t know why any member of Congress in 2012 would want to look like a technophobe.”

In an e-mail, Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) said, “I communicate in person, through correspondence, with two Facebook pages (official and unofficial), email updates, a website, telephone town hall conferences and community one-on-one meetings, etc. I may use Twitter in the future.”

Newbert speculated that there may be an even higher rate of Twitter use by the next Congress, when freshman lawmakers who likely will have used Twitter extensively during their campaigns arrive on Capitol Hill. 

For now, the holdouts are divided almost equally between the two parties. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) — part of the over-60 crowd — is among the few Senate Republicans still not using Twitter. Risch’s office said the senator has not ruled it out.

“He certainly sees the benefit of Twitter as a social medi[um], as demonstrated by the Usain Bolt tweets during the Olympics, but less useful as a policy discussion tool,” said spokesman Brad Hoaglun.

Twitter reported 80,000 tweets per minute sent when Bolt won gold in the 200-meter this summer, a social-media record for Olympic-related conversations. 

Political interest on Twitter has grown in the past few years, too. Twitter reported that tweets sent about the political conventions this year had sextupled the number sent about both 2008 conventions by the second evening of the Republican National Convention.

Overall, the number of adults who use Twitter on a daily basis has doubled since last May, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center released in June.

Lawmakers 
not on Twitter
 

Senate

Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.)
Max Baucus (D-Mont.)
 
Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)

Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) 
Kent Conrad (D-N.D.)
Jim DeMint (R-S.C.)
Al Franken (D-Minn.)
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)
Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) 
Herb Kohl (D-Wis.)

Jim Risch (R-Idaho)

Jon Tester (D-Mont.) 
Jim Webb (D-Va.)
David Vitter (R-La.)

House
 

Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.)
 
Rob Bishop (R-Utah)

Dan Boren (D-Okla.)

Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) 
Michael Capuano (D-Mass.)

Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

Kathy Castor (D-Fla.)

Ben Chandler (D-Ky.)

David Cicilline (D-R.I.) 
Lacy Clay (D-Mo.)

Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)

Danny Davis (D-Ill.)

Susan Davis (D-Calif.)

David Dreier (R-Calif.)

John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.)

Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) 
Barney Frank (D-Mass.)

Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.)

Scott Garrett (R-N.J.)

Sam Graves (R-Mo.)

Ralph Hall (R-Texas)

Andy Harris (R-Md.)

Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.)

Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.)

Wally Herger (R-Calif.)

Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.)

Mike Kelly (R-Pa.)

Dale Kildee (D-Mich.)

Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.)

David Loebsack (D-Iowa)

Frank Lucas (R-Okla.)

Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.)

John Mica (R-Fla.)

Jeff Miller (R-Fla.)

Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.) 
Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)

Tom Petri (R-Wis.)

Todd Platts (R-Pa.)

Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.)

Steven Rothman (D-N.J.)

Steve Scalise (R-La.)

Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio)

Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.)

James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.)

Heath Shuler (D-N.C.)

Chris Smith (R-N.J.)

Betty Sutton (D-Ohio)

Mike Thompson (D-Calif.)

Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio)

Tim Walz (D-Minn.)

Peter Welch (D-Vt.)

Rob Woodall (R-Ga.)

Bill Young (R-Fla.)

Corrections: Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) office set up a Twitter account at the end of August. An earlier version of this story included incorrect information about Waxman's account and about the number of lawmakers not on Twitter.