Boston Herald: Some pols say Twitter ban for the birds

By Joe Battenfeld
Monday, January 24, 2011

The social media phenom Twitter may be sweeping America, but it’s banned in the Massachusetts Legislature, which has blocked lawmakers and staffers from tweeting from their office computers.

The Twitter ban is frustrating some Web-savvy legislators, who say they use the popular Web site to communicate with constituents.

“I think it’s silly,” said Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) , who goes by the Twitter handle @JamieEldridgeMA and has 375 followers. “Social media is a great way to let people know what you’re doing.”

But not all pols are suffering Twitter withdrawal.

“This place has enough distractions already,” said Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), who admitted to being a Facebook user but said Twitter is just another time-waster. “There should be more sites that are blocked. We should also ban solitaire, Bejeweled and Farmville.”

A spokesman for Senate President Therese Murray said the Legislative Information Services department made the decision to block Twitter, claiming the site is vulnerable to viruses. When staffers and lawmakers try to go on Twitter, they instead get a huge, red “Warning!” message that blocks them from using the Web site.

But Facebook is not blocked, leading some to question whether legislative leaders just don’t want staffers and lawmakers using taxpayer time to tweet what they just had for lunch.

Eldridge noted that the Twitter ban doesn’t apply to smart phones, and said lawmakers sometimes tweet from the Senate or House chamber. And the ban applies only to State House computers in legislative offices. Gov. Deval Patrick and his staff are allowed to access Twitter from their office computers, and often use social media to announce new initiatives.

“It is absolutely frustrating,” said Sarah Scalese (@gopscalese), spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Brad Jones. “Republicans don’t always get face time on TV or get quoted in (newspapers). We need to utilize every available resource possible.”

“I’m not sure it makes sense,” said Rep. Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman), a freshman who said he started tweeting during his campaign. “We’re all adults here at the State House.”

That may be debatable, but it’s undeniable that more and more lawmakers are using Twitter. U.S. Sen. Scott Brown made the most of social media while he was still in the state Senate. Brown now has more than 27,000 followers and has tweeted more than 900 times.

Other elected officials have been much slower to embrace social media. Mayor Thomas M. Menino once referred to Twitter as “tweeter.”

Hedlund and others who support the Twitter ban said they don’t want staffers and lawmakers using Twitter for personal or political business. But Scalese said she is careful not to use Twitter during office hours.

“I would hope that adults at the State House would know right from wrong,” she said while not laughing.

The Herald tried to contact Twitter about the Legislature’s ban, but Twitter sent us a tweet saying they didn’t have an immediate response.

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