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Patriots Live

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2nd Qtr 12:43

Not much tweeting from Mass. delegation

Twitter trackers give members low ranking

WASHINGTON - With a knack for firing off pithy zingers, Representative Barney Frank might be expected to feel right at home punching out 140-character messages on Twitter.

But the Democrat from Newton is nowhere to be found on the popular social media website. His reason: “There’s not enough room for a discussion of substantive issues,’’ Frank said. “My colleagues end up talking about the seemingly irrelevant details of their personal lives. Frankly, I don’t think people are all that interested in what I ate for lunch.’’

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Call him old-fashioned, but Frank is not alone among his fellow lawmakers from high-tech Massachusetts.

The Bay State delegation ranks 47th in the nation when it comes to using Twitter to reach constituents, according to data from TweetCongress, a nonprofit website that tracks hundreds of live feeds from members of both chambers. Only seven of the 12 members tweet - 58 percent - compared with more than 80 percent of Congress.

“It might not sound like a lot, but imagine if only seven of 12 Massachusetts congressmen had telephones,’’ said Chris McCroskey, cofounder of TweetCongress. “These days, politicians need to think of Twitter as yet another essential tool for communicating.’’

By and large, the nation’s elected officials are getting the message. When TweetCongress was founded in December 2008, only a small group of 24 senators and representatives were tweeting, McCroskey said.

Nearly three years later, that number has swelled to 445 and counting.

Twitter has also penetrated the greater political establishment. This July, President Obama fielded questions from Americans nationwide during his first Twitter town hall. Two weeks later, six GOP White House hopefuls sparred in the first-ever Twitter presidential debate.

Much of the Bay State’s delegation, however, is out of the loop. While Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown and half of the state’s House members have official Twitter accounts, Representatives Stephen Lynch, John Olver, Richard Neal, Michael Capuano, and Frank are missing in action.

Several of the nontweeting congressmen said their offices are planning to join Twitter sooner rather than later.

“Congressman Neal believes the best way to communicate with the people he represents is to speak with them directly. . . . And while he prefers more than 140 characters when he reads a news story, I expect a Twitter account is in his future,’’ said a spokesman, William Tranghese.

But Capuano, like Frank, remains committed to staying off the site.

“I don’t understand why anyone would think the US government should run on 140 characters or less,’’ the Somerville Democrat said.

Lynch’s spokeswoman, Meaghan Maher insists that her boss has already started. A look at the account in question - @RepStephenLynch - shows that it is unofficial, has few followers, and did not produce any activity until the day after the Globe first inquired about Lynch’s presence on Twitter.

For the seven who are tweeting, the question is whether it is coming from them or their press shops. Kerry, who boasts more than 18,000 followers, is responsible for almost all of his tweets, said a spokeswoman, Whitney Smith. He has been on Twitter since December 2008 - the longest among the Bay State delegation.

Tweeting allows such followers as Daniel Garrelick, 30, of Brighton to receive the updates he wants from a lawmaker he supports.

“For someone who really values the information, I’m able to get everything from the politics to the policy - and it’s coming straight from the senator,’’ he said.

Most of the other lawmakers dabble in independent tweeting, according to their offices, while their media team mostly takes care of the digital dispatches.

Some congressional press secretaries take solace in that trend. Frank aptly points out that Twitter and other new-generation communications are “not error tolerant,’’ a lesson that his former colleague from New York’s Ninth Congressional District, Anthony Weiner, learned all too well this past summer.

Weiner, who became a prolific tweeter, resigned in June after it was revealed that he sent a sexually explicit photo of himself to a Seattle college student on Twitter. It was one in a long line of inappropriate exchanges with several women online, which ultimately led to the congressman’s precipitous fall.

The scandal became perhaps the most highly publicized “Twitterversy’’ since the site’s 2006 inception. It also prompted lawmakers to temporarily shy away from the site. A study by TweetCongress found a 28 percent drop in congressional tweeting the week after the imbroglio.

Such potentially career-ending gaffes mean the lawmakers often leave the tweeting to their press agents. But that can cause problems, too. In August, the Globe revealed that @CrazyKhazei - a Twitter account that mocked Alan Khazei, a Democratic candidate for US Senate at the time, by pretending to speak for him - was in fact created and administered by Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior campaign adviser to the senator Khazei sought to replace, Brown.

McCroskey laments Massachusetts’s poor showing on Twitter.

“We’ve always believed the more accessible our congressmen are, the better,’’ he said, adding, “Here’s an area of the country that’s always been politically important to the rest of the country, that’s always affected national politics, and to have such a low representation on Twitter is, simply put, disappointing.’’

Alex Katz can be reached at akatz@globe.com.
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