The recent College Park study that examined politicians' use of Twitter really wasn't a surprise. Yes, many politicians use it to puff up their image. They don't respond to their "friends" on the social networking site; instead they tout their latest grocery store run or gym workout. Sometimes, they may even ignore their Twitter duties for days on end.

What's that, you say? Members of Congress use and misuse Twitter in much the same way their constituents do? Interesting...


Don't get me wrong, it is aggravating that our elected officials aren't always using this social tool as a new way to connect with the people they represent. But I wouldn't mind knowing when Senator Barbara Mikulski is going to be on CNN next, or an interview Rep. Elijah Cummings had on NPR. These people represent us, and we should care about what they're saying. It's self-interested, but it's also important.

And that isn't to say that there aren't good political twitizens out there who are expanding their outreach through the site.

One of my favorite politicians to follow is Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri. Sure -- as the article points out -- she talks about her trip to Target. But she does it in response to a constituent's question. As well as being responsive, she'll often update the Twitterverse on how she's voted on an issue, what her expectations are for bills in Congress ("Now is the starting gate, not the finish line for health ins reform. Hard work remains. I'm betting we don't get done til Rudolph ready to fly," being one of her latest tweets), and her appearances around the state so that you can go and speak to her in person.

Looking locally, Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith has used Twitter to help spread the word about new resources for his residents and articles that highlight happenings in the county (photo above). Following the water main break in Dundalk on Friday, Smith tweeted about Public Works crews who will be in the area to help with the cleanup effort, and how residents can aid in the process, as well as giving words of encouragement to those who have been affected.
(Baltimore Sun photo/Lloyd Fox)
None of this will change the world, but it may help a few Baltimore County residents who might not otherwise know about the African American Festival that was held earlier this month, or the school-based wellness center that just opened in their area.
The point is, politicians may not "get" Twitter yet, but that's not to say they aren't trying -- much like many of my own friends. Meanwhile, Twitter isn't for everyone; there may be some in Congress who will never bother visiting the site. But politicians shouldn't be harangued for trying new technologies and bungling in the beginning.
Instead, why don't we encourage their participation, and show them how they can use Twitter, Facebook and whatever comes next to better serve the people? Have you got a politician you follow, or would like to see have a better online presence? Now's the time to let them know.