Tweeting for votes

Published 9:18 am Friday, July 24, 2009

Niles Daily Star

First were the tech savvy and social media conscious, then the Blackberry wielders, the White House and the country of Iran.

Now, local politicians are getting their tweets in.

Last month, State Representative Sharon Tyler appeared onto the social media stage, her first tweet stating simply, “New to twitter, but this seems like a great way to keep up to date with friends and colleagues!”

Since then she’s posted notices and reminders of where she might turn up, the Buchanan Farmer’s Market, for example to meet with the public, at community events and has even posted a tweet or two of her meetings with various committees.
The social media tool, she said, has been a useful way of keeping in contact with people and can even – when it comes to members of public office make them more accessible to voters.

“It opens my mind and it gives one information, (such as) when I’m sitting on the (House) floor,” she said.

Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook making their mark in the world of politics is not necessarily new. The Obama administration, back when it was a campaign team used the internet and other forms of social media to connect with voters.

Representative John Proos said he noticed the same connection with potential voters who might not have otherwise been reached when it comes to politics.

Proos jumped into the realm of Facebook originally as a means of staying in contact with old friends prior to a personal reunion. He has since linked his Facebook and Twitter pages so updates are consistent.

Shortly before meeting with members of the media on Wednesday to discuss the House Republican budget plan, he flashed his Blackberry, typing in a quick update to his Facebook account. The technology is a tool for officials like Proos and Tyler as much as it is for voters.

“It educates me more on how I should do business or legislate,” Tyler said of comments she receives from followers.

Proos said upon returning messages through social media, he’s received appreciative responses from the public, thanking him for taking time to respond and admitting they began following his Facebook and Twitter accounts in order to communicate on various issues.

Of course, as with any public forum, there has been speculation on just how effective – or for that matter – appropriate social networking is when it comes to politics.
The about-to-be former Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin has been the source of a quite a few jokes in the tweet-o-sphere for her posts about “mama bears” after meeting with wildlife biologists.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger raised eyebrows just this week when a link was posted on his twitter page to a video in which he wielded a big knife and talked about autographing state cars and selling them off to raise money, apparently, for the state.
Proos and Tyler see the social media as a different kind of weapon – a means of arming people with information and facilitating communication.

“I always believed that communication is the key to success,” Tyler said, calling Twitter an “unbelievable tool.”

Tyler, who expressed her feelings about the speed of things in Lansing when she tweeted “heading into session. Looks like we might actually vote today. Gov uses time like they use tax money – inefficiently,” did say she felt the process was still “very new,” and that when it comes to others posting responses that they are being careful to make sure information is accurate.

“I’m hoping people, before they place information out into the web world,” check the facts before they hurt somebody, she said.

Time, or more accurately, Twitter – will tell.