This past week we saw the @WhiteHouse, the @StateDept and @NSCPress squared off in a full-blown Twitter debate with Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle over whether the U.S. should have a military response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria… almost. It had all the hallmarks of a debate. Positions were staked out. And one side apparently won.
The Administration tweeted its position that military action was necessary to preserve America’s credibility and take a stand against the use of weapons of mass destruction. And Members of Congress, both Republicans and Progressives alike, called on the President to consult with Congress, to gets its authorization before taking action.
And after a few days of these tweets, the President announced he would consult with Congress and seek authorization when they return to session on September 9.
It had all the hallmarks of a debate, except none of them were talking to each other. No replies, no @mentions, just a one-way broadcast of their positions to the public. And while some Members of Congress (for example @RepJustinAmash and @SenRandPaul) tweeted the substance of their arguments for all to follow and even mentioned Secretary of State Kerry, a whole bunch of Senators simply tweeted a link to their “statement on Syria,” avoiding any substantive comments in their tweets.
And the two presidential hopefuls among the Republican Senators, @MarcoRubio and @TedCruz, were virtually silent on Syria the whole time, preferring to tweet about repealing Obamacare, instead.
We are almost there. Our leaders are using Twitter to tell the people their positions on the great debates of our day. Now they need to talk to each other about it.
The biggest reason, in my opinion, why Congress has become so dysfunctional is that Members don’t really talk to each other anymore. Stories of GOP House Members chastising their colleagues for having a friendly hallway conversation with a Democrat abound in Washington. This lack of civility makes it impossible for Congress to govern effectively.
So while I am still disappointed that the Twitter debate over Syria looked like a lot of our leaders talking past each other, again, I am heartened to see they have taken to the same unofficial, public forum to make their statements. And given that that forum IS a social network, Twitter itself may put pressure on them to actually talk with each other to resolve the problems we all face.
Social Advocacy & Politics is a weekly, exclusive column for Social Media Today by Alan Rosenblatt that explores the intersection of politics and social media. Look for the next installment next Tuesday morning.