Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill is always among the top five congressional users of Twitter. She has over 42,000 followers but unlike Congress's other leading tweeters, she follows nobody, a contrast she's coming under fire for.
In a recent post, she acknowledged the complaints, writing: "clairecmc: It seems like I need to repeat this every couple of months. I'm trying to keep it honest, not arrogance."
McCaskill is wildly popular on Twitter because she does her own tweeting and often dishes on personal issues, not just legislation. Last week, for example, she posted a picture of her new grandson. She also tries to answer direct messages to her Twitter account.
But when it comes to following people, a practice some believe is required, McCaskill says that she's too busy to read all the tweets that would flow into her account, though she denies she's arrogant. In fact, she says following her followers would be a sham. "That would feel dishonest because I really would not have the time to read all of their tweets and would have to zoom through hundreds to seek out those tweets that are asking for help, or expressing their opinion on an issue facing us in the Senate," she says in her explanation for not following anyone, posted below.
It's a policy the four others on Congress' list of the top five Twitter users apparently don't agree with. Number one, Sen. John McCain, with 1,716,741 followers, follows 180. Number two on the list, South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint has 55,565 followers and follows 30,349. House Minority Leader John Boehner, third on the list, has 65,205 followers and follows 16,587. And behind McCaskill in the fifth spot, House GOP Whip Eric Cantor, who has 24,714 followers, follows 91.
So who's right? It depends, but the industry's newsletter, CNET, thinks people should follow who's following them. A columnist for the Web site writes: "There aren't any rules forcing you to follow your followers on Twitter, but that doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do. If someone has found you compelling in some way, shouldn't you give them the benefit of the doubt and follow them back? It's not like you can't block them in the future if you think their tweets are inappropriate."
For the record, Whispers, with 1,369 followers, follows 229, including many who retweet Whispers tweets.
Here is McCaskill's explanation of her Twitter policy:
Aug. 26, 2010
I had some folks tweet again this week, complaining that I'm not following anyone. So bear with me as I reprise my blog…Why I Don't Follow You.
Why I don't follow you.
Obviously I think twitter is a great communication tool. Many folks have commented that I should follow more people. One recent blogger has declared that I'm arrogant since I only follow one person [Actually, she follows nobody.] Let me try to explain why I don't follow more people.
Early on I realized that for me to do this myself I had to be realistic about time constraints. Most members of Congress who tweet have staff help on their tweeting. In fact, many members have their staff actually do their tweets for them.
I took a different route. I decided I would do this myself. It would be me, and only me. Some weeks I tweet a lot, others not so much. But without fail I read every single tweet I receive. Ok, maybe I gloss over a few "form" tweets, but I sincerely make an effort to read all. So I get lots of opinions and thoughts from thousands of people. Every day. It truly is two way communication.
If I followed people I would get so many tweets about so many subjects, it would be so much harder for me to get through all the tweets to find those that relate to my work on behalf of Missourians. I get close to 10,000 letters and emails a week in my Senate office just from Missourians.
I could take the easy route and say I'm following thousands of people. But that would feel dishonest because I really would not have the time to read all of their tweets and would have to zoom through hundreds to seek out those tweets that are asking for help, or expressing their opinion on an issue facing us in the Senate.
I like twitter. Not many Senators have embraced it. I believe it does ground me and provides an easy way to stay close to what people are thinking out there. Please feel free to tweet me anytime by including @clairecmc in your tweet. I direct message folks all the time if they are following me. If not, many times I just reply to them.
Thanks so much.