Why didn’t that elected official answer your question on Facebook or Twitter

If you look on an elected officials Facebook wall or check out their @ mentions on Twitter, odds are you will see a comment or question that hasn’t been responded to.  This is something that used to frustrate me.  No question should go unanswered, right?  Why would an elected official not answer a constituent question?  It must be because they don’t care, right?

Well, sure, that’s one possibility.  But odds are its more complex then that.  Here are a few reasons why an elected official may not answer a question that you asked via social media:

  • They never saw it:  Some elected officials have staff that run their social media and never actually see the questions asked.  Ideally, the staff that runs Facebook or Twitter should be equipped and empowered to answer questions in the name of their boss, but for many, this never actually happens.  As such, a question can go unanswered.
  • They don’t want to go on the record:  Yes, this happens, but it isn’t always for a  political, self-serving reason.  There are plenty of times where a bill is introduced and constituents have questions, and the truth is that an elected is ill-prepared to answer at the given moment.  It’s not necessarily because they don’t have a position, but it may simply be because there are a variety of questions related to a bill that haven’t been answered yet: who is affected, are there amendments, how will this effect constituents, etc.  It’s difficult to answer a question about an issue without all the facts, and as such, a question may go unanswered…at least temporarily.
  • They don’t have an answer:  I know this will shock some people (sarcasm), but believe it or not, elected officials do not have immediate answers to every question.  This is for two reasons.  First, we just have never heard about an issue before.  Put another way: in Pennsylvania, over 2,000 bills have been introduced, so far, this session.  Do I know about all of them and have an opinion on every one?  Of course not.  No one does.  Second, an elected may need more information.  I can recall multiple instances in which someone approached me about a piece of legislation and, based on their description, the bill sounded perfectly reasonable.  Then another person approached me about the same issue, from the other side, with an equally reasonable description.  It can be difficult to answer a question based on one persons description if that’s the only information you have, not because the person asking is dishonest, but because their question may be unintentionally biased.
  • They already answered it:  I’ve lost track of how many times I was asked if I supported school property tax elimination.  Only two of the dozens of asks actually came from within my district, but I’ll address that in the next bullet. I’m perfectly fine with giving the same answer over and over again, but many aren’t.  As a result, sometimes, an elected will say, “I already answered this question and I’m not answering it again,” then move on.  That ignores the point of social media, of course – the elected may have already answered the question, but the person asking clearly doesn’t know that.
  • The person asking isn’t from their district:  Social Media does enable you to get more information on someone asking a question, and frequently, that includes where they are from.  If someone is from the opposite part of the state, or out of state (yes, that happens), many electeds will completely ignore the question.

Anything else to add?  Let me know in the comments!

3 Comments

  1. This is the sort of problem that I think http://www.askthem.io/ is attempting to solve. I haven’t used it too much, but recommend checking it out.

    Constituents can ask questions of their officials, officials can respond, comment answers are there, and officials can see how many of their constituents would like a question answered

    Not affiliated in any way, but very interested in technology’s attempts to solve these challenges.

    Reply

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