It somehow seems fitting, in the same week the United States of America inaugurated its first Twitter-obsessed president, that the Maine House of Representatives found itself debating the pros and cons of social media.

Personally, I’m torn over a request by Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, to allow House members to fire up their Facebook and other social media accounts when they’re in session.

As a public policy matter, it raises serious questions about discipline, diligence and deportment.

But as pure entertainment? Be still my beating heart.

We begin with House Rule 109, titled “Use of personal electronic communication devices.”

It states, “During all sessions of the House, a member shall restrict that member’s use of all personal electronic communication devices to personal business and business of the House and shall in such use exercise high standards of discretion, conduct and decorum.”

Such high standards, of course, are subject to interpretation. House members routinely have their phones out and laptops open during those lengthy roll calls and interminable debates.

In fact, more than once in recent years, members have been caught from behind watching the Red Sox or playing solitaire when they’re supposed to be conducting the people’s business.

They also send text messages – the quicker, easier alternative to the longstanding practice of scribbling “Hear, hear!” or “You know not of what you speak!” on a scrap of paper, summoning a House page and having it hand-delivered to the object of one’s admiration or scorn.

But Pouliot’s plan, as articulated on Wednesday to the House Rules Committee, goes way beyond that.

He envisioned photos and video recordings, taken by House members of themselves or other House members, popping up on the internet in real time as the people’s representatives go about their constitutional duties.

As reported by Press Herald State House staffer Scott Thistle, Pouliot told the committee, “It is all about creating broader access and insight to the governing process and frankly, it enhances the general public’s ability to participate by using a platform such as Facebook Live that they’re already familiar with.”

Pouliot just turned 30 last month. He knows about these things.

Others don’t.

Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, was once a young buck in the Maine Legislature just like Pouliot. That was … let’s see here … more than a half-century ago.

Now 75, Martin described himself during the hearing as “not a proponent of social media.”

The man’s being modest. He actually hates social media.

“If I had my way, there would be no Facebook and no accounts out there, no tweakers or whatever else,” Martin told Pouliot. “And society would be a lot better off if they read the newspapers and watched the news.”

OK, I admit I loved the society-should-read-newspapers part. But no more Facebook? No “tweakers”?

Give Pouliot credit for respecting his elder. “Social media is not going away,” he gently informed Martin. “I hate to break it to you.”

Still, Martin had a point when he worried aloud that social media “creates more problems” than it solves.

President Trump’s tweets alone have already destabilized the entire planet. When it comes to fake news, Facebook has become an express lane on the disinformation highway. And don’t get me started about Snapchat because, well, I’m not sure how it works.

But back to the House floor. As if these people weren’t dysfunctional enough, imagine what a savvy lawmaker could do with a raw, 30-second video of his opponent proclaiming, “Madam Speaker, I may not be the sharpest tool in the box, but this bill makes no sense! I need help comprehending how it could, in any way, be beneficial to the Maine people!”

The tightly edited Facebook video version: “Madam Speaker, I may not be the sharpest tool in the box. I need help.”

Then there are the perils of the still photo.

Back in 2005, during a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, then-President George W. Bush discreetly penned a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Captured for posterity by a nosy Reuters photographer, the message read, “I think I may need a bathroom break. Is this possible … W.”

Within hours, the whole universe knew the leader of the free world was, ahem, having trouble following the proceedings.

Nefarious edits and embarrassing moments aside, unleashing the power of social media on the Maine House also raises significant questions about what is and what isn’t a matter of public record.

“Any substantive transmission (by a legislator in the course of his or her official business) is a public record,” said David Cheever, Maine’s state archivist, in an interview on Friday.

Cheever has long struggled to educate anyone and everyone in state government that their official emails are public records and thus should be retained just like written memos were back in the day.

Facebook and Twitter only compound that challenge, Cheever said.

For starters, the moment a lawmaker posts something official on Facebook, it becomes the sole property of Facebook. How then does the state ensure that said posting, assuming it’s juicy enough, is preserved for archival posterity before … poof … it’s erased?

And what if a Facebook skirmish were to break out during a House floor session? One lawmaker starts video-recording another, prompting the other to video-record right back and before you know it, the entire chamber is engulfed in a smartphone shootout. Is all of that a public record?

Quipped Cheever, “All you’re doing is underscoring my inability to do my job.”

Wherever all of this is headed, it’s not going to get there fast. After kicking Pouliot’s proposal around for a while last week, the House Rules Committee voted to table it until … whenever.

Meaning Rep. Martin can rest easy. For the duration of the 128th Maine Legislature, at least, it appears there will be no Facebooking in the House chamber.

Or tweaking.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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