Before the digital age, Congress established ‘franking rules’ on communication to constituents. These governed how Members could use public funds to send mass mailings to constituents, while guarding against incumbents using this privilege to advance political campaigns. When these rules were extended to include social media, at first they were restrictively applied, effectively making popular social media services such as Facebook and Twitter out of bounds. This reflected fears that using social media would imply a commercial endorsement through association with advertising, could tarnish the status of the institution, might create security issues, and would make inappropriate political activity harder to catch.
Following emerging experience, debates and a campaign led by the Sunlight Foundation, in 2008, the House and Senate revised these rules and allowed members and staff to use social media to correspond with constituents more freely, while still maintaining the principles of no product endorsement, no partisan material and no unrelated personal information.
While there is no overall social media policy, the House and Senate rules now makes clear that Federal law and House Rules on communication apply to all ‘official content of material posted by the Member on any website’, but not to the broader social media platform itself.
Countries this example relates to…
- Encourage the use of digital tools to engage with the public
- Develop digital platforms and capacities to enable citizen engagement with parliament