Congressional Staff Love To Tweet, But Wary Of Social Media and Fake News

Congressional Staff Love To Tweet,
But Wary Of Social Media and Fake News, Says New Poll

A new Public Affairs Council/Morning Consult poll reveals that congressional and federal agency staff are drowning in news, data and persuasive arguments. Although they are frequent users of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, a plurality considered social media the news source most harmful to political discourse. And more than two-thirds of congressional staff say that people sharing false news online is a major problem.

The survey of 173 congressional and federal staff also explores the most effective methods for influencing Congress and which policy-information sources are considered most trustworthy.

Congressional staffers have love-hate relationship with social media.

  • Roughly half of congressional and federal staffers polled spend at least 30 minutes every day on Facebook or Twitter, or both. Congressional staff are the heaviest users with 68% spending at least 30 minutes on Twitter, 67% spending at least 30 minutes on Facebook and 57% spending at least 30 minutes on Instagram.
  • Ninety percent (90%) of congressional staff call Twitter an effective channel for engaging constituents; 85% and 76% think Facebook and Instagram are effective, respectively. Nearly two-thirds of congressional respondents say the member of Congress they work for uses Twitter and/or Facebook.
  • Sixty-nine percent (69%) of congressional staff say that people sharing false news online is a major problem. Democratic staff feel strongly about this issue, with 81% calling it a major problem.

Capitol Hill doesn’t believe national media are “enemy of the people.”

  • Seventy-five percent (75%) of congressional staff and executive branch personnel say major newspapers are somewhat or very beneficial to political discourse. Local newspapers and local TV are second and third on the list with positive scores of 77% and 72%, respectively.
  • The least beneficial influences on public discourse include talk/news radio (56%), cable news (53%) and social media (46%).
  • Congressional staff have a more positive opinion of social media than do federal agency staff. In fact, people working for Congress rate social media and major newspapers at about the same level. Federal agency staff are much more likely to think that major newspapers (36%) rather than social media (7%) are the most beneficial to political discourse.

Want to Influence Congress? Show up in person.

  • When asked to compare the effectiveness of different advocacy techniques, congressional staff rate personal visits to Washington, D.C., (83%) or district offices (81%), and think tank reports (81%) at the top of the list. Grassroots advocacy strategies also score above 75% for effectiveness.
  • In-person visits from lobbyists are considered effective by a strong majority (75%), as are town halls (73%) and lobby days (72%). The lowest score goes to social media posts, which are still rated as effective by 57% of survey respondents.
  • Eighty-three percent (83%) of congressional staffers say their boss would likely meet with a CEO from their district or state when that executive comes to Washington, D.C.

Other Findings

  • The most-trusted sources of policy information are the General Accountability Office (90%), the Congressional Research Service (88%) and federal agencies (86%). But certain private-sector sources of information also score well. Eight out of 10 congressional and federal staffers say trade associations are trusted sources of political information, and 79% feel that way about think tanks.
  • The majority of congressional staff who see policy-related advertising actually take the time to read the ads. Fifty-eight percent (58%) report seeing policy ads multiple times a week, and 55% say they read those ads somewhat or very often. In contrast, only 43% of federal employees see policy ads multiple times weekly, and 46% read them somewhat or very often.

“The poll shows that social media’s strengths are also its weaknesses,” says Public Affairs Council President Doug Pinkham. “Congressional staff find social media useful for constituent communications because it’s widely accessible, but social media can also be used to easily to spread misinformation and harm political discourse.”