How Social Media Changes The Way Citizens Talk To GovernmentHow Social Media Changes The Way Citizens Talk To Government
An interesting article in <i>Federal Computer Week</i> looks at how social media are changing the face of public participation in government. Traditional public comment has citizens talking to government, and government (hopefully) listening. But social media involves people talking to each other, with government in the mix participating in the discussion.
February 19, 2009
An interesting article in Federal Computer Week looks at how social media are changing the face of public participation in government. Traditional public comment has citizens talking to government, and government (hopefully) listening. But social media involves people talking to each other, with government in the mix participating in the discussion.Traditional "public comment" is a term of art describing a top-down procedure with formal rules for participation, Kim Patrick Kobza explains. Social media is peer-to-peer and messy. But both are necessary, Kobza argues.
As the new administration takes shape, a debate has begun over the role social media will play -- or should play -- in public participation processes. There is rising tension and confusion over the appropriate place for social media alongside traditional public comment. Both sides have their vocal proponents, but in my view, Government 2.0 needs both. Each has its purpose. "Public comment" is a term of art -- a legal standard that requires comments to be relevant, free of profanity, and offered with full attribution and identity. I added the emphasis there. Those four characteristics of public comment are pretty much the perfect, geometric opposite of what you get on social media. Social media comments are often irrelevant, laced with profanity, inarticulate, semi-literate, and anonymous. Often, they seem to have been posted by rageaholics who really should be placed under armed guard. But social media comments are sometimes brilliant -- often enough to make the whole thing worthwhile. And services like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn provide simple mechanisms for separating the worthwhile participants from the goofballs. Kobza, who heads social media vendor Neighborhood America, notes another way that public comment is different from social media: Public comment is designed to allow citizens to talk to government, while social media is designed for people to talk to each other. Both are necessary, Kobza says: We must provide a means for engagement that enables simple citizen-to-government communication. On the other hand, peer-to-peer communication through the use of social media will enable government agencies to take advantage of the value inherent in citizen networks and will welcome even more citizens into the process. The formal nature of public comment makes it off-putting for regular citizens to participate. It's a lot of work -- or it's perceived that way, and packed with lobbyists, lawyers, and other professionals who are competing with regular citizens for government's ear. But anybody can participate in social media, contributing a little or a lot, depending on what they're capable of.
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