Elizabeth Emken, an unknown Republican who is among those hoping to challenge U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the fall, won a little notice recently for criticizing Feinstein for not have a presence on Twitter and Facebook.
Emken, in a press release, argued that this showed California's senator to be less accessible than she should be.
It turns out that Feinstein has been preparing to launch on Facebook and Twitter for some time; her campaign is "99 percent" of the way there to a social media launch, says longtime Feinstein consultant Bill Carrick.
But Emken's criticism raises questions: should politicians be on Facebook and Twitter?
My answer: not necessarily.
Certainly, having a social media presence is not a good measure of accessibility. Many politicians don't engage the public through these medium; they use them as another broadcast channel for the news they want to make.
Plenty of inaccessible, unresponsive elected officials out there are on Facebook and Twitter. And Feinstein, whaetever you think of her politics, is a deeply engaged senator, and her web site provides a variety of ways -- from email to phone numbers -- to get in touch with her.
That said, politicians, and particularly politicians from California, home to Facebook, Twitter and others, should be looking for ways to use social media.
That does not mean Facebook is a good idea -- check out the comments on the network and you'll see that Facebook is full of haters.
But there are so many thinkers -- from entrepreneurs to academics -- in California who are trying to innovate with social media, that it would be wise for Feinstein and other state leaders toharness that brainpower.
One idea for the senator and other California pols: sponsor a public contest to design a way for you to interact on-line with constituents.
Be clear about what you want. A U.S. Senator for a state of 38 million has limited time, so she may want a network that allows her to see, quickly what her constituents are saying, to respond privately to anyone whose ideas she finds intriguing, and to keep the platofrm free of hateful, unhelpful commeents.
Developers and coders would jump at the chance to design something (especially if the politician holding the contest offered a cash prize for the winning idea). The contest itself would be an example of public engagement. And a California senator could boast, with reason, that she was attempting to support innovation and new ideas on the Internet. A win-win.