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Don't fear the tweeter, Clement says in defending policy via social media

Don't fear the Tweeter.

That was Industry Minister Tony Clement's message to MPs grilling him on the government's Internet policy.

Last month, Clement used the social-media website Twitter to announce the government's intention to overturn a CRTC decision that allowed usage-based billing.

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The Twitter account in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's name also posted the message.

While the government's decision to overrule the regulator was popular, many questioned using social messaging to make a formal policy pronouncement.

At a House of Commons committee, Liberal MP Marc Garneau wondered why even the head of the CRTC had to learn via the Internet that he was being overruled.

"Are we, in fact, setting government policy and government decisions by means of 140 characters that you send out in the middle of the night to tell the CRTC, a respected regulatory body, how decisions are made in this country?" said Mr. Garneau.

The length of a Twitter message, or tweet, is restricted to 140 characters of text.

But Mr. Clement said that among his over 12,000 followers, 2,000 or 3,000 are reporters.

"There is nothing different from articulating government policy via social media as compared to a news release, or a press conference or other means that have been traditionally available to politicians," he told MPs.

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"I don't think you should fear that, I would encourage you to open your arms to that."

In recent days, a number of MPs and political staff have increased their use of Twitter to communicate government messaging, partially because the service is now being installed on House of Commons BlackBerrys.

Among others, Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for the prime minister, has used Twitter to provide updates on the evacuation of Canadians from Egypt and Libya.

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