Consolidate the regulations governing Member office communications, including digital communications, into one easy to find place.

As discussed above, the world of constituent communication has changed rapidly and expansively in the past 20 years. While postal mail is still used by Members of Congress, particularly newer Members and representatives from “swing districts,”[201] social media and email dominate constituent communication. The contradiction between rules governing postal mail and communication through new forms of technology created challenges for Members of Congress and the franking process. Simply put, the rules that apply to postal mail are often not applicable to a post on social media.

As Brad Fitch, CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, noted in his testimony to the Committee:

 “So, if both Congress and constituents believe in a healthy, robust engagement and it is important, Congress then must adapt to 21st century standards. The rules governing the use of the frank should be updated… these rules were designed when the printing press was the primary communications tool.”
Brad Fitch, June 5, 2019

Currently, two official sources detail social media use by Members of Congress. The Committee on House Administration defines social media accounts as “profiles, pages, channels, or any similar presence on third-party sites that allow individual or organizations to offer information about themselves to the public,” while the Members’ Congressional Handbook allows Members to “establish profiles, pages, channels or other similar presence on third-party sites ... ,” so long as Members ensure that their official position (i.e., Representative, Congressman, Congresswoman) is clearly stated in the account name.

However, the rules defining what can be posted on social media are relatively vague. The Member Handbook states that social media profiles are merely “subject to the same requirements as content on Member websites,” and “must be in compliance with Federal law and House Rules and regulations applicable to official communications and germane to the conduct of the Member’s official and representational duties.”[202] But the rules set in place for traditional mail simply do not fit with the nature of social media posts—there are limitations on space (a Tweet is limited to 280 characters), and differences in tone (social media has an added benefit of being a personal and informal mode of communication).

In addition to vague definitions, there is no clear jurisdiction for reviewing social media posts. While the Commission offers guidance on the franking privilege and constituent communications—including social media— it does not have the explicit authority to regulate digital communications. As current Communication Standards Commission Chair Rep. Susan Davis (CA-53) noted, “Right now, we are only charged with reviewing postal mail, but in practice, we review all communication.”[203] Former Commission Chair and Committee member Rep. Rodney Davis echoed this sentiment in his testimony:

Image 8.1: Former Communications Standards Commission Chair and Select Committee Member Rodney Davis testifies before the Select Committee, alongside current Communication Standards Commission Chair Susan Davis.

Image 8.1: Former Communications Standards Commission Chair and Select Committee Member Rodney Davis testifies before the Select Committee, alongside current Communication Standards Commission Chair Susan Davis

“Many of the rules that we follow and approvals that our teams follow have been set by precedent between staff for decades. We, as Members, ought to codify those precedents into rules and regulations so we don't have any changes when we have changes on the committee in leadership... It is hard to follow rules when they are not written down and when they are not transparent.”  
Rep. Rodney Davis, October 31, 2019

Thus, the lack of clear rules and advisory jurisdiction is confusing and frustrating to Members and adds a conflicting burden to the Commission’s review process.

The Committee recommended updating the U.S. Code to consolidate all member communications—including social media—under the jurisdiction of the Communication Standards Commission. This recommendation has fully been implemented in the House, and a new manual with updated regulations was issued to House Members in January 2020.

The bipartisan makeup of the Commission makes it an ideal body to issue social media regulations that can be accepted by both political parties regardless of minority or majority status. Giving the Commission the necessary jurisdiction over social media will allow it to establish official regulations to guide Members on their social media use. This change in jurisdiction provides Members of Congress with much-needed clarity on how to communicate with their constituents on social media and other emerging forms of technology.

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