Unethical Tweeting In The Senate

Politicians are notorious for getting at each other’s throats on the Senate floor, and it looks like they’ve found a whole new way to misrepresent their opponents using Twitter.

A single tweet in the Minnesota State Senate might be the catalyst for an ethics inquiry, if its content is any indication.

While debating the Senate Health and Services bill on Wednesday night, two Senators duked it out on Twitter. Or at least, one Senator made inaccurate and defamatory statements on Twitter, while the other looked on in disgust.

Senator Barb Goodwin, a Democrat representing Columbia Heights, presented a case for the bill by reading on the Senate floor a list of terms that people with mental health used to be called, including imbeciles and idiots. She thought she was making a point, but her opponents decided to spin it – on Twitter.

Shortly after reading her statement, Goodwin’s words made it onto another Senator’s Twitter account, albeit out of order and out of context.

Republican Senator Gretchen Hoffman tweeted:

“#Sen Goodwin just called people with mental illness- idiots and imbeciles- while debating HHS bill #offensive #mndfl #mnsrc #mnleg”

The tweet hasn’t been pulled down yet, despite the fact that it takes Senator Goodwin’s statements completely out of context.

According to the StarTribune, Goodwin was informed of the tweet during the Senate’s session, and rose on the floor to complain:

“This goes beyond the Pale. This is an ethics violation in my opinion. She totally understood what I said….This is beyond politics. This is just plain mean spirited.”

Dirty politics is nothing new, but using Twitter to smear someone is. As with everything on Twitter, Hoffman’s tweet will be kept on record, even if she deletes it (as it has been retweeted and picked up by the media). Attempting to defame a fellow politician on Twitter is an interesting choice of public medium, because the evidence of this political low-blow cannot ever be completely removed. I think if an ethics complaint did go through, Goodwin would have a pretty solid case.