New York Rep. Anthony Weiner's unforgettable moment of un-"certitude" last week regarding a sexually suggestive photo tweeted to a 21-year-old female follower has only added to the mysteries about politicians and the addictive power of Twitter, the social networking site.
-- Why is California Gov. Jerry Brown following an eclectic crowd that includes Britney Spears, former Prince collaborators Wendy & Lisa, Pee-wee Herman, Whole Earth Foods, Bill Cosby and a woman who goes by LastingLesLove, "America's favorite lesbian love coach and matchmaker"?
-- Why did former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who adored posting his pictures on Twitter, tweet a video of himself wielding a huge knife while talking about autographing state cars during his last budget crisis -- a move even his spokesman couldn't explain?
-- How did California Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom -- who once tweeted 68 consecutive messages reading "thanks" or "thank you" in one day -- amass an astounding 1.3 million followers?
-- Why does GOP Rep. Darrel Issa, the House Oversight and Government Committee chair in Congress, tweet his followers more than five times as often as Newsom?
Some of the answers may be found in a new Pew Research Center poll that showed the Twitter audience is becoming a political goldmine for officials trying to reach constituents: As of May, 13 percent of online adults use the status-update service -- a 33 percent jump from November, when the first such survey was taken.
The biggest growth has been among African American and Latino users, who proportionally Twitter at least twice as much as white users, the survey showed.
"People used to talk about the digital divide, and now that divide is on content -- Twitter is becoming the new TV," said Roger "Biko" Baker, executive director of the League of Young Voters Education Fund, a group that works to raise civic engagement among voters. "But elected officials have to think seriously," he said, about how to take the 140 characters (or a photo) allowed on the Twitter feed and make it a positive.
"As with anything else, you got to do it in moderation," said Democratic political consultant Roger Salazar, who has advised state politicians on how to navigate Twitter and the social-media maze that includes Facebook.
While New York's Weiner has been a prolific Twitterer, Salazar says there are some aspects of his headline-making story that provide teachable moments about social media and politics.
For one, he said, there may be an entirely rational explanation for Weiner's reported tendency to "follow" the accounts of people in their 20s on Twitter: Many elected officials don't set up their own accounts.
Salazar said young, tech-savvy staffers are often delegated to that work. Some, out of curiosity or in effort to keep a finger on the cultural pulse of America, have been known to sign the boss on to "follow" a wide range of quirky folks on Twitter, such as Britney Spears.
While some politicians are choosy about whom they follow, others commonly track Twitter feeds of anyone who follows them, Salazar added.
That appears to be the case with Schwarzenegger, whose official Twitter account is headed "I love hearing from my fans." He follows 109,000 people and causes, including movie industry folks, climate change organizations, body builders, groupies, average Americans -- and yes, plenty of attractive women in their 20s.
Gil Duran, a spokesman for Brown, said the Democratic governor has long been tech-savvy and started up one of the first official political blogs in 2005. Since then, Brown has become a skillful user of social media, with more than a million followers on Twitter.
Brown's wife, Anne Gust Brown, also tweets -- as does California's "first dog," the corgi Sutter Brown, though through an unofficial and still mysterious source.
Whether politicians use Twitter mostly for official business and press releases or for personal observations, the key is balance, Salazar said: "If you do it in moderation, you're accessible. If you overdo it, you're a media whore. If you underdo it, you're ducking the press."
That means, Duran said, that elected officials must remember one thing before hitting the "send" button: "Live by the tweet, die by the tweet."
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)