Government IT terminology has political bias

New transparency tool shows popularity of words used in Congress

Do you think that new media terminology can't lean left or right? Think again.

According to the new Capitol Words online tool that charts word usage in Congress, "Facebook" is a preferred term used by Blue State Democrats, while "Twitter" is a more popular word among Red State Republicans.

The Sunlight Foundation transparency advocacy group launched the revamped Capitol Words website on Dec. 12.

“The new version now allows users to search, index and graph up to five-word phrases that give greater context and meaning to the turns-of-phrase zinging across the aisle,” Nicko Margolies, communications coordinator for Sunlight, wrote in introducing the revamped site.

Users can enter a word, and the website charts the popularity of the word in the Congressional Record over several years. With a click, users can access two separate charts: one for Democrats using the word, and one for GOP members.

The word Facebook first appeared on the chart in 2006, peaking in 2011. It is used predominantly by Democrats. Twitter made its first foray onto the chart in 2008, with several peaks since then. Republicans mention Twitter more often.

The website allows for much more sophisticated searches, of course. For example, using the term “Obamacare” for the 2009 health care reform is clearly a trend favored by Republicans, according to Capitol Word.

Experiements with several IT-related words showed a mixed record.

  • “Cloud” appeared in 1997 and peaked in 2008 and in 2011. It is slightly more popular among Democrats.
  • “Egovernment” showed a nearly flat chart, with a peak in 2001 in Democratic use and another peak in 2010 by GOPers.
  • The terms “Gov20” and “Gov2.0” do not appear to show up on the chart at all. Those are popular terms on Twitter that describe government activities in the new media Web 2.0 world.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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