Less than half of all members in the Oklahoma State Senate keep active accounts on social media.
Depending on your views of accessibility and transparency, this may seem either surprising or benign. But many senators without any social media presence still swear by email, phone calls and face-to-face meetings with their constituents.
“I think social media accounts for most people are largely taken for granted,” said Keith Gaddie, chairman of OU’s department of political science. “If you work in the public space, I think they are especially important.”
Despite that importance, the public nature of social media tends to cut both ways: Increased access to an elected official may be a good thing in terms of public relations and electioneering, but the potential for public gaffes creates liability for a politician’s reputation, too.
To that end, an entire site has dedicated itself to capturing and archiving deleted tweets in an online database called Politwoops.
“You do something you regret, you do something temperamental (on social media), and suddenly the embarrassment is out there for the world,” Gaddie said.
After soliciting explanations from senators who lack social media presence, many cited email volume as a workload burden that limits elected officials’ abilities to branch out online.
“We are inundated with so many emails and other correspondence that it just gets overwhelming at times,” said Deborah Curry, executive assistant to Sen. Jim Halligan (R-Stillwater). “He’s got a one-person office. I don’t know that that’s a reason, but it’s a valid concern.”
Linda Bostick, executive assistant for Sen. Charles Wyrick (D-Fairland), echoed the emphasis on email volume. She said it is the primary method of communication for Sen. Wyrick and estimated he receives “probably four to five-hundred emails a day.”
Sen. Wyrick himself pointed out several other avenues through which he avails himself to the public.
“I do live radio shows, I meet with constituents in the district all the time,” he said. “I publish phone numbers, I publish email addresses. Certainly I don’t try to exclude the public from this office.”
Methodology and data
To compile the data, searches for each Senator’s name were made on Twitter and Facebook between March 28 and March 30. To be considered “active” for the purposes of this analysis, accounts must have exhibited at least one post since Jan. 1.
According to the data, 19 (39.6 percent) of Oklahoma’s 48 senators keep active social media accounts on both Twitter and Facebook. The other 29 (60.4 percent) either keep an account on Facebook but not Twitter (35.4 percent), maintain inactive or private accounts (6.3 percent), or lack accounts entirely on either platform (16.7 percent).
All Senators who have Twitter accounts also have Facebook accounts, but 17 senators (35.4 percent) have an account on Facebook but not Twitter. Even among Senators with both accounts, three maintain inactive Twitter accounts, while one keeps a private Facebook account.
Age as a factor
The presence of senators on social media can be correlated somewhat to age, with older senators less likely to appear on either online platform. Of those lacking either account, the average age is 65.1 years. Conversely, for those with both accounts, the average age is 44.8 years.
At 71 years old, Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Springer) is the oldest senator to have an active presence on both platforms. Meanwhile, Sen. Patrick Anderson (R-Enid), at 47, is the youngest to lack either account.
Confounding the age factor is the fact that some of the youngest senators exhibit inactive Twitter accounts. The average age of all senators is 52.4 years.
For those of you on Twitter, please take a moment to respond to this related poll:
Do you follow your locally elected officials on social media?
— McBee (@metal_thorn) April 5, 2016