After Weinergate, lawmakers tiptoe through the tweeting tulips

Remember those happy days before Weinergate?

Those were the days of free-flowing Twitter rhetoric when members of the House and Senate felt safe to tweet. In those innocent days, there was no precedent by which you could guess what would happen if you clicked on the wrong icon with the wrong kind of message.

The fact that an illustrious career has fallen to rubble in just a bit more than a nanosecond has seemed to render social media-friendly members of Congress Twitter shy, at least for the moment.

Tweets from members of both parties have dropped dramatically since Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) mistakenly sent a lewd photo of himself out to his Twitter feeds instead of via a private Twitter message, reports Mashable, which posted an infographic on the stats

The graphic, named the ‘Weinergate’ Effect on Congressional Tweet Frequency, was developed by TweetCongress, which follows the Twitter activity of members of Congress. It surveyed the Twitter activity of the 168 active Democrats and 232 active Republicans from May 9 to June 8, and found that tweets dropped 30 percent since the scandal broke on Friday, May 27.

The largest dip was seen on May 30, the Monday after the scandal broke, with Republicans sending just 191 tweets, down from 910 on May 26. Democrats' numbers dipped to 88 on that Monday from 240 on May 26.

According to the most recent TweetCongress stats on June 8, Republicans tweeted 302 times and Democrats tweeted 169 times.

The numbers are gradually rising again, so one wonders whether the Twitter numbers will return to pre-Weinergate levels over time, or will members of Congress take Weiner’s futile flub to heart?

Calling it the “chilling effect,” Chris McCroskey, one of the founders of TweetCongress, has a theory about the fluctuations.

“It isn’t some grand lesson that was learned but it’s press secretaries and new media directors saying, ‘Hold up for a second and make sure we’re covered…Make sure we’re not in this and not following girls in skimpy clothes,’ ” McCroskey told Politico.

If so, perhaps the time off could be spent learning about what is public and private on Twitter.

Did Weiner realize that once the private photo was out there it was lost in cyberspace forever, whether or not he deleted it? Twitter users are quicker than you think, reports the Today Show. It took less than five minutes for the pic to be retweeted by another Twitter user. Remember the old warning that you shouldn't post anything on a website you wouldn't want your spouse, boss or children to know? The same goes for Twitter, warns the Today Show.

The decline in lawmakers' tweets isn’t just a matter of worried pols being careful. It could affect the access people have to their elected officials. The scandal could put a damper on an easy way for lawmakers and constituents to stay connected, McCroskey told Politico.

Weiner had a discussion with a New York Times blogger about his Twitter persona and use of social media just three weeks before the scandal broke.

The blogger's editor noticed that Weiner's Twitter feed was “punchier and more candid than that of the average elected official,” writes Ashley Parker in The New York Times blog, City Room.

“With absolutely metaphysical certitude,” Weiner told Parker. “I will say that I will offend somebody or make a mistake once in a while. I won’t always be politically correct, and I’m sorry in advance.”

Weiner conceded to the blogger that he often forgets the tweets after they pour out, but that they are mostly are pretty playful.

About the Author

Alysha Sideman is the online content producer for Washington Technology.

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