Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Twits in government

The Lord's Prayer is 66 words, the Gettysburg Address is 286 words, there are 1,322 words in the Declaration of Independence, but government regulations on the sale of cabbage total 26,911 words. ~National Review

And yet, apparently governments think they can say important things in 140 characters.  

I used to live in northern Ohio, where we used to watch a lot of Canadian TV. On the whole, it seemed that our northern neighbors were a pretty sensible bunch, with the exception of Quebec always wanting to secede and become part of France. Well, it turns out that either we weren't all that observant or they kept their foibles a good secret.

What brought this to mind was an article that said that the Canadian Government had created a monstrously complicated system for creating tweets on Twitter. Now I freely admit that, being the Luddite that I am, I don't do Twitter, so I didn't even know that Canada had a Twitter feed. Evidently they do, and they seem to be having a very difficult time rolling out little 140-character gems on a regular basis. One bureaucrat (1) complained that the government was “imposing structure on a form of communication that inherently rejects structure.” The person went on to say that “We don't really know what we're supposed to be on Twitter.”

Frankly, Canada, if that's your biggest problem, you're in heaven.

Anyway, this got me to wondering the obvious, and sure enough, the US Government also has a Twitter feed. I don't how much bureaucracy it takes the US to figure out what to tweet, but they certainly manage to turn them out. It looks like a veritable fountain of what we used to call public service announcements back in the day, complete with links to helpful government publications that will surely put you to sleep.

But, hey, even Russia has a feed! Now if the Russians, who have as much bureaucracy as any country in the world can manage to crank out the occasional bon mot, surely the more laid-back Canadians should manage.

Actually, what I'm waiting for is for one of these government Twitter accounts to get hacked. It happens to news agencies all the time, and my experience with government employees and security would suggest that the person in charge of the Twitter feed could be had as easily. However (and, like most times, I could be wrong), despite the number of government web sites that have been hacked, I can't recall a government Twitter feed being had.

It could be that the lack of followers has something to do with it. The US site has 190,000 followers which is a pittance compared to the most entertainment celebrity. The Russians are even more pitiful, garnering a mere 23,800 regular readers. One would think that it would be mandatory for at least all Russian government employees to be followers. I guess things really have eased up since the fall of Communism.

At least President Obama has a following of 41 million, mostly, I presume, people waiting for him to put his foot in his mouth (a trait US Presidents all seem to have). By comparison, Russian oligarch -er-President Putin has a paltry 146,000 – and he's the guy who likes to get all the bare-chested photo opps.

Of course, the silly part is that it's unlikely that either one of these hotshots does his own tweets. Oh, President Obama might say, “Hey, let's toss off something clever for President's day” or some such, but I'd like to think he's got better things to do than stare at his cell phone all day. Unfortunately, he has admitted to being addicted to the stupid thing, so anything is possible.

I have frequently said I don't see the need to constantly be connected to the world. I seen even less reason to be hung up on Twitter, which has demonstrated itself to be a marvelous source of misinformation, stupid comments from celebrities, and general waste of time. Oh, occasionally, something will pop up in a feed that's an important news item, but if you're that hung up on knowing about every plane crash, political event, and misbehaving teen celebrity, just check CNN once an hour.

If the Canadians are smart, they'll realize the amount of time they're squandering on Today's Tweet and just drop the whole thing. If you check a search engine, you'll see that there are endless Twitter feeds from the country's various departments. If all these take the amount of time described in the article, the amount of taxpayer dollars to be saved by just shutting down the accounts could be astronomical.

Maybe Presidents Obama and Putin would take the hint, and find better uses for their time.

(1) Just to set the record straight, I just retired from being a bureaucrat for the City of Birmingham for around 11 years, so I'm not necessarily criticizing.

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