This year’s Social Media Rankings for the Rhode Island General Assembly have been published and can be reviewed here. Last year was the inaugural edition of our rankings, and though we set arguably low standards, a fair number of legislators failed to meet even half of them. This year we saw some overall improvement, but was almost entirely attributed to new, younger members elected in November who are more in tune with their constituents’ needs and keen on “meeting them where they are”. This is an encouraging sign, but does not excuse those legislators who continue to ignore their constituents on the Internet. Those that ignore the preferred and most convenient communication method of so many voters and refuse to post a website so voters can learn about them have no business as public servants, to put it candidly.
For 2021, we tightened standards a little bit further, but kept things reasonably easy to achieve. We determine the metrics we use based on polling our volunteer user base and internal deliberation. We ask voters what they expect out of their elected officials, and then create criteria based on those wishes. As I alluded to early, for these first two years we made the decision to water down some of the social media requirements to give lawmakers lengthy notice that a) we are evaluating your social media, b) yes, people do care that you are on it. This year, we came down hard on member websites that do not rank on Google. If a Google search for your own name and title does not produce your official website atop the results, it really is not serving its purpose. On the other hand, we decided this would be the final year that we would not punish lawmakers for not having a mobile-friendly website. We realize many member websites were designed a long time ago and would require upgrades that could cost several thousand dollars. Next year, full mobile usability will be required. For social media, this year we mandated that the member’s contact info be listed on their Facebook page. Because Facebook asks for this info upfront when creating the page, a member must have actively chosen to not include it, but constituents told us they want to see it there. We continued to give [partial] credit for having a profile, even it is never used and the most recent post was years ago. Next year, we will only score profiles that have at least one post made within the prior 6 months.
We added follower counts this year, for informational purposes. It is rather elementary to purchase Twitter followers (and Facebook followers, to a lesser extent) so we do not count this in our scoring. But it does provide insight into the more popular legislators and those who are prolific at the social media game. We did plan to include the Town Halls metric in this report, however the timing of the General Assembly session created lengthy response times for legislators to verify Town Halls, so this was moved to its own report to be released in the coming months.
Only 5 members of the General Assembly (out of 113) scored an “Excellent” rating this year. Those five, however, should be celebrated for their dedication to serving. Being a member of the General Assembly does not pay well, at less than $20k/yr. The efforts made by these social media stars go well beyond the minimum required as a public official, and leave them vulnerable to attacks and trolling. But they do it anyway. Kudos to Sam Bell, Jeanine Calkin, Alana DiMario, Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, and David Morales. Senator Bell and Rep. Ranglin-Vassell scored #1 in their respective chambers for the 2nd year in a row.