Local Governments and Technology
Bill Schrier has a post up about potential uses of Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites in local government. He thinks the technology isn’t ready yet. Here are some of his (paraphrased) reservations about the sites, with my comments:
- Facebook isn’t a good way to organize community efforts like neighborhood watches because it would require sharing too much personal information with casual acquaintances.
I’m not sure why he thinks neighbors would have to share all their information with each other on Facebook. If you start a group on Facebook, the members can communicate with each other even if they’re not “friends” and don’t see each other’s profiles. You can also control which friends see what on your profile. I’m less familiar with other social networking sites, but I know there are some out there that people use for more specific purposes and not to share every intimate detail — for example, some people use LinkedIn just for employment networking and keep the personal stuff on MySpace or Facebook. It’s possible to use social networking without revealing your closest secrets.
- If local governments used Twitter, they would be overwhelmed by the volume of responses.
Maybe, maybe not. I guess it depends on what we mean by local. How many people are eager to communicate with their municipalities on Twitter? It would probably be the same dozen who show up at council meetings. But even if a state government would get too many replies to respond to them all, that doesn’t mean the technology isn’t useful. A one-way exchange of information from government to constituents can still serve a purpose. If someone wants to comment or make a suggestion, they can use all the traditional ways of contacting the government, like letters and phone calls.
- Government use of social networking sites would deepen the digital divide between those who have access to these sites and those who don’t.
I agree that governments should not assume everyone has access. Twitter isn’t a substitute for those sirens that go off when a tornado’s coming, and we’ll continue to need printed notices and forms. On the other hand, computers are available in public libraries for anyone to use. Local governments shouldn’t forgo email because not everyone has it, and the same goes for social networking.