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Use of Social Media by Members of Congress

Sherri Greenberg

Background: The client for this PRP is the Congressional Research Service (CRS). During the past two years, CRS has been observing and studying the growing use of social media by Members of Congress. In fall 2009, CRS wrote a report on the use of Twitter by Members of Congress using data from a two-week period in August 2009. This was followed up by a report that expanded the available data to a two-month period. CRS continues to get questions about social media usage, and while existing reports and general distribution memorandum on Twitter usage are helpful, a full-scale study of social media adoption and usage by Members would further CRS's ability to assist its clients.

Purpose of Project and Key Questions: A project on social media usage by Members of Congress is important for several reasons. First, as with any new technology, the incorporation of "cutting edge" communications techniques by Members of Congress is an important area to consider. How Members use social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, has practical implications for how Members communicate with their constituents. Knowing who has adopted these resources, when they adopt them, and how they use them can aide CRS in assisting Members who struggle with understanding the desires of their constituents (both geographic and ideological).

Second, social media use by Members and staff raises many questions about the application of internal rules (i.e., Franking privilege, technology on the chamber floor) to new forms of communication. Understanding why Members adopt these communications tools and House and Senate attempts to regulate their usage influences CRS's ability to observe potential changes in internal congressional operations.

Lastly, understanding how Members are using social media aids CRS in understanding representational choices Members make and the possible implications for office operations. Members who actively engage in social media may have a different governing philosophy than those who do not. Alternatively, Members may feel that they have to engage constituents through social media while they continue to have reservations about the technologies relevance.

Deliverables: (1) a research plan for studying social media usage by Members of Congress; (2) a data set of Member adoption of various social media applications; (3) a preliminary analysis of social media usage; and (4) a final report on what forms of social media Members are using and trends in Member use of social media technology.

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