Tweet Congress, the nonprofit website that helped push a number of politicians to join the twittersphere — and made a few of them deeply regret it — plans to relaunch in the next month, CNBC.com has learned.
Co-founder Chris McCroskey said in an interview this week that a new version of the politician-tweet-tracking website will be up and running in the next few weeks, roughly three years after its original effort went offline.
Most infamously, Tweet Congress was instrumental in helping bring down Anthony Weiner, after the then-New York congressman, married to a Hillary Clinton aide, tweeted a protuberant image of his boxer-briefed flanks to a 21-year-old woman who was following him on Twitter. Weiner immediately denied that he had sent the tweet, and claimed his account had been compromised. But metadata Tweet Congress provided at the time to the now-defunct publication, The Daily, laid the lie to Weiner's equivocations, and he eventually 'fessed up and resigned from office.
McCroskey said his group is in the process of opening up additional versions of its site for European countries, starting with Slovakia.
Tweet Congress originally launched in 2008 as part of a campaign to encourage members to bypass the mainstream media and interact more directly with their constituents through social media. However, the site soon became better known for its impressive archive of congressional tweets, which included those that members had retroactively tried to to delete from the social-sharing network.
The Sunlight Foundation's Politiwoops project has similarly endeavored to keep the errant writings from our elected leaders and their social media staffers, forever in the public sphere.
A beta version of the relaunched Tweet Congress, which CNBC.com was invited to view, shows a key new functionality to the website: the ability for users to conduct keyword searches of tweets, as well as to sift for results by Republicans or Democrats.
Initially, the site will track and archive just members of Congress, although McCroskey said that it will "probably" expand to include presidential candidates.
When Tweet Congress launched in 2008, McCroskey said, only 24 members of Congress were using Twitter. By the time the site disbanded in 2012— for financial reasons, McCroskey said — there was close to full Twitter adoption among lawmakers.
Though he is gratified by this technological transformation, McCroskey hesitates when asked whether this twitterfication of the political process, which he so passionately crusaded for, has presently done more harm than good.
"That is a tough question," he said. "it really is tough. I would probably say that the political discourse has probably gotten worse as far as social media is concerned. It does surprise me. I came from a much more naive outlook in terms of political discourse, at the time. It has been eight years ago: I thought there would actually be some conversation on there, but more of what we have seen is social media trolling, or of people shouting at one another behind completely anonymous platforms."
In the month following Weinergate, there was a noticeable chilling effect on members' Twitter activity. But the pause was only short-lived, as President Barack Obama's 2012 presidential campaign and the 2014 House Republicans proved the efficacy of the social networking service.
Now, Donald Trump embodies the apotheosis of McCroskey's vision: the tweet-first (at times, think second) presidential candidate.
"I think whether you like it or you don't, the verbal honesty coming directly from a political candidate, being completely unfiltered, was exactly what we were looking for in 2008," McCroskey said. "We didn't get that [then] and maybe we chilled that to some degree because of scandals that happened; we are now seeing that happening in full force."
McCroskey holds out hope that the European continent will provide a more constructive, less inflammatory terrain for online discourse between elected officials and the public. In particular, he said, he sees the value of political leaders engaging Twitter in regards to the continent's refugee crisis, a sufficiently volatile focus of attention, to be sure.
McCroskey, who is also a co-founder of IdeaLoop, a software integration firm based in Texas, said Tweet Congress will remain entirely nonprofit and nonideological.
"As always we are going to be nonpartisan, nonissue, just a place where we are aggregating these things," he said. "We plan to do sentiment research on both sides of, as well as tracking key words and tags, but we will be completely agnostic towards anything political."