Just a few weeks ago, Reps. John Culberson (R-TX) and Tim Ryan (D-OH) began their great Twitter debate over U.S. energy policy. It seemed a welcome move for many in the online world: members of Congress connecting with citizens, sharing their ideas and debating policy in an open environment.
The full value of politicians using social networks and technology is still up for debate — are they just "repackaging," or can these new tools really help bridge the divide between elected officials and their constituents? These questions will remain unanswered unless Congress establishes new rules over members' use of the Internet.
The current atmosphere is a mixture of formal rules developed in the 90s and ad hoc advisory opinions, all designed around franking regulations, which usually govern traditional media like mail and television. Interactive services like Facebook, YouTube and Friendfeed are so dissimilar to these older methods that the rules no longer makes sense.
To that end, the Sunlight Foundation (of which I'm an employee) is asking that Congress let its members Tweet, as part of an ongoing effort to reform the way the House of Representatives operates in the digital age.
It's obvious by now that social networking and tools like YouTube and wikis have changed the way we collect information and converse with one another online. Why not encourage our elected officials to join us?