Embracing the New Media Landscape

Published in TheHill.com.

By Reps. John Culberson (R-Texas), Bob Latta (R-Ohio), Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.)

Twenty years ago, if you wanted to contact your member of Congress, you mailed them a letter or picked up your home phone and called their office. Today you can send a text from your mobile phone or an email from your iPad. In a little over a decade, the Internet has revolutionized the relationship between elected representatives and their constituents. Now, almost every member has a “digital office” and online presence with virtual office hours to serve constituents around the clock.

The opportunity to listen and engage with constituents has expanded with the ever-growing frontiers of the Internet. For members like us that arrived after the dot-com boom, we’ve never known a time representing our constituents without the benefit of a website, email, and a mobile device. 

If you accept that the Internet and social media are breakthrough technologies and that they are driving innovations across sectors and markets – then the re-shaping of our policies is just an extension of that process. As co-chairs of the Republican New Media Caucus, we are outspoken advocates for using new media to bring us closer to our constituencies – whether on the road in our district, or debating the issues of the day in Washington, D.C. 

As has been stated recently, the Internet “forever changed how citizens and members of Congress interact. The unprecedented capabilities of the Internet have brought about unprecedented challenges and mounting frustration for both sides.” 

We hail from all corners of the country: Ohio, Texas, Virginia and Washington – and while each state and district is different in its needs, the need to stay in touch with our constituencies is uniform. We contend the Internet’s “unprecedented capabilities” bring limitless opportunity to both members and citizens alike, rural or urban, red or blue. With elected representatives only a few clicks away, barriers to citizen participation have nearly disappeared.

Congress, however, has a history of resistance to new technology. In 1930, the Senate passed a resolution banning “dial” telephones, ostensibly because Senate offices had to act as their own switchboards. In the end, a compromise was reached giving Senators a choice of a dial or manual telephone. 

Today, members are confronted with a changing communications landscape, one that offers both opportunity and risk. We come down on the side of the opportunity for direct and open communications, taking form in answering questions on Facebook, Twitter, tele-townhalls, posting YouTube responses on important debates and visiting with constituents and soliciting real-time feedback.

We are eager proponents of the new order of communicating. And we’re doing that every day by making use of new and emerging technologies such as Skype, Qik and QR Codes. The electorate is more engaged than ever, and we must engage as they do. As one Member said recently, “we have to fish where there are fish.” Further, in a time of fiscal austerity, members have at their disposal tools to communicate with constituents at a fraction of the cost of a postage stamp.

Along with embracing these new tools to connect, the Internet allows an increasing free flow of information. House Republicans are leading the way to make Congress more open and transparent. As co-chairs of the Republican New Media Caucus, we continue to encourage our colleagues to join us in changing how Congress conducts the People’s business.

Reps. John Culberson (R-Texas), Bob Latta (R-Ohio), Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.) serve as co-chairs of the House Republican New Media Caucus.

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