CT Legislature Uses Social Media Testimony in Irene Hearing

Connecticut Senate President Donald Williams says he was "very pleased" with citizens' responses to Twitter and Facebook pages set up to collect feedback on Tropical Storm Irene response.
by | September 26, 2011 AT 8:00 PM

For those who couldn't make it to Hartford to offer their thoughts on Connecticut's response to Tropical Storm Irene, the state legislature established Facebook and Twitter pages for citizens to offer their perspective. Tweets and comments were read into the record at Monday's public hearing, same as if a constituent had sent a letter to comment on the state's emergency services.

Senate President Donald Williams, who initially proposed the idea after watching constituents use social media despite power outages during the storm, tells Governing he was "very pleased" with the response on the state's "After Irene CT" Facebook and Twitter pages.

More than 150 people liked the Facebook page, and the Twitter account garnered almost 100 followers. Williams's staff counted 68 comments with various "likes" and sub-comments on the Facebook page. To put that in perspective, Williams says, if 68 people came to the capital and spoke for three minutes each, that would amount to seven hours of testimony.

"In this case, no one had to leave their home. No one had to miss work," Williams says. "The access to constituents was instantaneous. They were able to provide constructive ideas. I'm not sure this will work for every issue, but regarding issues of general concern, I think it can be an effective tool."

The nature of the comments varied widely from unqualified praise to bewildered criticism directed at local power companies and the state itself. Many seemed to believe the state and municipalities had done the best they could, considering the circumstances. Carol Klingele was one such person.

Others like Richard Tomlinson, whose page indicates he lives in Glastonbury, commented on the lessons to be learned, receiving confirmation from others.

But some took an opportunity to vent their frustrations. Carrie King, one of 700,000 residents to lose power during the storm, had some pointed suggestions for CT Light and Power.

On Twitter, the 140-character restricted the length of the comments, but residents still communicated some strong feelings. Robyn, also known as @cruzgrl1 criticized a lack of communication between agencies.

Still others, like Kim Chernecky (@kchernecky), overcame the social media service's limitations with a rapid series of tweets to @AfterIreneCT.

Finally, the state legislature also used its Twitter page to pump live updates from Monday's public hearing straight into followers' feeds.