C-SPAN has joined the social media revolution by displaying tweets from members of Congress during breaks on some of its broadcasts.
According to Adam Hochberg of Poynter, for the past several months C-SPAN2 has been displaying the Congressional tweets in real time during breaks in their Senate debate coverage.
C-SPAN sees the tweets as just another extension of their television coverage.
“C-SPAN’s public service mission is to show Americans what’s happening in Washington,” said Howard Mortman, the network’s communications director. “We see Twitter as another way that members of Congress are communicating with the public, and we want to be showing that as well.”
The tweets are pulled from Twitter’s API, which allows it to access the official accounts of members without human intervention. (An API serves as an interface between different software programs and facilitates their interaction.) This is in keeping with the spirit of C-SPAN’s programming, which often airs live, unedited and without commentary.
C-SPAN only pulls tweets from official government accounts, leaving out any personal or campaign accounts the members may have, and omits pictures like the ones that ended the congressional career of Anthony Weiner.
Despite the fact that over 450 members of Congress have Twitter accounts not all of them use them regularly, creating a slow stream of tweets at times for C-SPAN.
That has led to tweets remaining on the screen for several minutes, rather than seconds, as would be ideal.
Another problem is that just because a Congressman tweets doesn’t mean that it’s interesting.
Hochberg mentions a Florida congressman who tweeted about a health fair in his district, which may be of interest to his constituents but probably not to a national audience.
But that’s what you get when you automate. You will get both the profound and the mundane.
As word gets out that C-SPAN is airing their tweets we can probably expect them to become more focused and more frequent as the congressmen try to take full advantage of the medium to boost their public standing. And with Congressional approval at 9%, they could use all the help they can get.