WASHINGTON — Panicky Capitol Hill staffers are scrambling to make their Twitter accounts private after the tracking site LegiStorm last week debuted a feature compiling the public tweets of lawmakers and their aides.
The airing of these sometimes embarrassing messages has led to red faces, irritated bosses and a purging of aides’ racier tweets.
Two years ago, then-Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., showed how easy it is for a private naughty message to inadvertently get sent as a public tweet. This newest episode offers another “teaching moment” about the perils of mixing politics and social media.
Most of the Twitter accounts were already public, and the LegiStorm tool, StormFeed, linked the accounts (many held by 20-somethings) to their users’ Hill employers.
“I really feel like this was a public service,” said LegiStorm President Jock Friedly. “Right now it’s a pain, because people on the Hill are having to deal with temporary fallout, readjusting and having conversations about what’s appropriate. But it’s a good reminder that what you tweet is public.”
And many staffers’ concerns were warranted. A search of LegiStorm’s collection of tweets — some from accounts recently made private and others from those who hadn’t yet closed off access — reveal staffers posting all manner of office-inappropriate stuff.
Want to know who’s searching for the hair of the dog in the Capitol complex? Check the tweets.
“Did I mention I’m violently hungover?” one House staffer complained.
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I wouldn’t wish hungover flying on my worst enemy,” wrote a House committee staffer.
Then there’s the profanity. F-bombs abound. “Well [expletive], in a few brackets two of my final four teams are out,” complained a Senate committee staffer. Another House staffer retweeted this affirmation: “Life is so short, just do what the [expletive] makes you happy.”
It gets worse, but we’ll spare our readers’ sensibilities. Staffers have long treaded recklessly in social-media land: Many identify themselves in bios as employees of lawmakers or committees, and yet their tweets are a blend of work-related topics and irreverent (even NSFW) personal messages.
Enter StormFeed, which aggregates the Twitter feeds of about 5,000 lawmakers, current and former staff members, and lobbyists. About 2,000 of those are staffers, and about half of those have made their accounts private — including hundreds since StormFeed debuted.
A storm indeed.
Friedly explains that beyond exposing the seamier side of Hill aides, the tool is helpful to understanding how Congress functions. “It’s useful to find out what’s on their minds, what they’re talking about, what they’re thinking,” he said.
Just maybe not everything they’re thinking.