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Politics is big in these parts, and we’ve got it covered. John Arthur Hutchison and other staff writers will offer their inside information on the events, big news and little moments of the local political scene in Lake, Geauga and eastern Cuyahoga counties.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How politicians use Twitter

By now everybody has heard that Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., "accidentally" posted a lewd photograph of himself on the popular social media website Twitter.

It's simply another entry in a saga of Politicians Behaving Badly. Rep. Weiner meant to send the photograph privately, but posted it for the public to see. The congressman originally claimed he had been hacked, but eventually admitted to pursuing Internet relationships with several women via Facebook, Twitter and email. Some of the women have since come forward, and more inappropriate photographs of the congressman have surfaced.

For the latest on the scandal, click here.

Meanwhile, as some of Weiner's colleagues are crying out for his removal in the news, it seems that very few of them are taking to the very medium that caused this whole problem: Political officials have been using Twitter less and less in light of the scandal.

This info graphic from Mashable shows that politicians have been producing 30% fewer tweets since the scandal began.While one might think it should be common sense for a person in power to avoid using social media sites in order to engage in inappropriate relationships, Mashable notes that Weiner's colleagues are instead cutting back on social media altogether.

Last year, News-Herald Staff Writers John Arthur Hutchison and David W. Jones wrote about the ways local politicians used social media and the Internet for their campaigns or to touch base with constituents. It is a national trend that has very local implications.

For example, Chardon Councilwoman Nancy McArthur was quoted in this article as a proponent of social media use.
“I use them somewhat for Council -- mainly promoting local events, restaurants, Chardon Tomorrow and the like,” McArthur said.

She used social media programs during her election campaign, but used her personal website more frequently.

McArthur said elected officials should consider using social media more often as a way to get messages and thoughts out to the public or to find out more about what is happening.

“I follow a lot of different folks -- Democrat, Republican and independents -- because I want to know what they are saying, hearing, and doing,” she explained. “I also can see what's posted on their profile to see if certain articles, websites or other sources may be of interest to me.”
McArthur was not alone. Willoughby Hills Councilman Kevin Malecek said he had been using Facebook and LinkedIn for years, and said he thought social media was "the new frontier of political and campaign outreach."
“It's important for elected officials to become more familiar with it and to embrace the possibilities it provides to outreach to voters and constituents alike about what you are doing."
That is only a small sample of local politicians taking to the Web. In this day and age, it seems that most politicians must use the Internet to stay current and involved. It was interesting to see that a scandal involving a prominent and popular politician has affected officials' Twitter use already.

While I haven't been able to judge how area officials' social media use has changed, it will be interesting to see if or how it does.

What do you think? Should politicians avoid using social media like Twitter altogether in light of Rep. Weiner's scandal? Or is it still a crucial way for them to campaign or reach out to constituents?

--Danielle Capriato

Related: For an interesting piece from Mashable on how politicians use social media, click here.

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