Social Media: Citizen Engagement or Gov’t Control?

@BareKnuckleDawg recently sent me the following concerns regarding government use of social media:

  • I regard this “Gov 2.0 thing as the governments way of attempting to spy on the public while “sitting in their lap”, so to speak.
  • The government wants to constantly monitor public sentiment – and I think you are all aiming for a degree of control over it.
  • I believe the government wants to monitor public sentiment in realtime and have the ability to “shutdown” any user they choose

My response was that nothing I’ve said, and nothing I’ve ever heard, matched these suspicions. I’ve talked to a whole lot of people at a huge range of agencies at every level: federal, state, local, and even other countries. In every case, *every single case*, the discussion centers on ideals of citizen engagement, open government, transparency, etc. But I also acknowledged that it’s possible some agencies will use these tools in that way.  I mean, people can use any tool, online or off, for nefarious purposes.

I suspect there’s no way to convince anyone of what we’ll actually do in advance, so we just need to do it instead.  And in a free society, the best defense is citizens keeping an eye on things.

But I also think this is a wide-open discussion topic, and I’d love to see loads of people share their thinking. To get the ball rolling, here are a few questions to ponder:

  1. What’s the “real” reason gov’t agencies want to engage in social media?
  2. Is there any way to convince skeptics like @BareKnuckleDawg that they’re wrong, other than just doing it and showing what we’re up to over time?
  3. If some agency does use social media the way suggested, how should other agencies, the public, the media, etc. react?

As you discuss, feel free to suggest other questions and I’ll update this main post.


7 Responses to “Social Media: Citizen Engagement or Gov’t Control?”

  1. 1 Dawg September 9, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Regarding item #3….

    I’m not sure I agree that that’s a properly phrased question.

    “If some agency does use social media the way he suggests, is there any appropriate reaction (by other agencies, by the public, by the media, etc.)?”

    Is this to suggest that the obvious, immediate reaction to such invasive tactics would NOT be appropriate ?

    I contend that it would be the ONLY appropriate reaction.

  2. 4 Dawg September 9, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    “Is there any way to convince skeptics like @BareKnuckleDawg that they’re wrong, other than just doing it and showing what we’re up to over time?”

    Yes. Set up specific servers for any government activity involving social media activities and give technically proficient private sector groups total admin access to the server and it’s logs.
    Users sufficiently proficient to run traces on all incoming / outgoing connections to the server. The government will already be doing this, and that needs to be “watchdogged” by the public. Transparency.

  3. 5 everysandwich September 10, 2009 at 9:33 am

    The report that the IRS was trolling social media sites to dig up info on unreported taxes was not reassuring. On the other hand, maybe that was a good way to find Charlie Rangel’s beach house.

  4. 6 DaveC September 22, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    In this complicated modern world, the government’s use of social media is necessarily an evolving role. Its obvious that the Obama administration is using social media to further its policy goals. “Transparancy” being a watchword of the Administration its interesting that the participatory parts of the Administration’s web presence are mostly on 3rd party servers, (YouTube, Facebook, Flickr,etc.) rather than government owned servers. An interesting question is whether we should trust Yahoo or Google, neither of which is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. A quick glance at comments on one Administration YouTube post, , doesnt’ look like much censorship (or moderation) is going on there.

    Which brings me to my point: There are instances when moderation of trolls furthers the purposes of a community. Obviously in a political or official policy context, some may call this censorship. On the other hand, should trolls be able to dominate a discussion with rudeness? Wikipedia isn’t successful because its anarchy, it works because a large group of people supporting the shared cause agreed to work with in (group created) rules of behavior. A social contract has its place in government use of social media. Figuring out the details of the government social media contract is an ongoing experiment.

  1. 1 Government 2.0 Beta « Forced to Pay Attention Trackback on September 10, 2009 at 11:40 pm

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