Washington attorney Ramsey Ramerman, who has been mentioned here before, has a very useful column in the current issue of the Association of Washington Cities magazine. I’d call this required reading for anyone dipping into, or currently immersed in, the waters of social media. If you know someone who is a candidate for office, be sure to give this to the person because they would not normally get the magazine. Both Ramsey and the AWC are to be commended for compiling and presenting this material.
You might find it easier to click on the link below, which should open the document at its source so you can move it around and read it.
- Don’t post anything you don’t expect to see in the local paper or blogs. This stuff we Tweet, post or ‘Facebook’ is public regardless of who you think might see it.
- If your site allows comments, don’t moderate them. You could violate the First Amendment.
- Be extremely careful so council members don’t start deliberating via social media. That breaks the law.
- There are court cases going on now concerning what material you have to archive from all this social media to comply with public records rules. Be aware of the latest rules and guidelines, and act smart so you don’t get fined for failing to produce something (and there’s a link from his article to the blog of Ramsey’s former law firm to get the latest news)
And that brings up a personal note. Ramsey developed his interests as a private attorney and has recently become assistant city attorney in Everett. That’s great for him and Everett, but it means he will have a lot more on his plate than social media. We can only hope the officials there can give him some time to take advantage of his knowledge of social media. Government attorneys need to provide more of this sort of advice, and Everett is to be commended for the time they’ve already given Ramerman.
Mostly during vacation, I shut down thinking about digital democracy. But not all the time. What I heard during vacation was the soundtrack of digital democracy: full citizen participation and steady progress.
And this soundtrack, like those recordings you hear of whales or dolphins in the water, comes from nature.
This is where we find out who has been snorkeling and who hasn’t. I snorkeled for the first time only about a year ago. I was mystified not by something I saw, but something I heard.
In some areas, you dip your head into the water, and you hear … crunching.
The water conveys sound broadly and disperses soundly widely. So when you hear something under water, it can be difficult to pinpoint a location. What I heard during that first time snorkeling was crunching, coming from everywhere.
Turns out it was. This is the sound of creatures like the parrotfish (and assorted critters like them, but let’s pick on the parrotfish for simplicity). What the parrotfish does is pretty amazing. He or she wanders the bottom, and bites coral and rock. He or she extracts the living matter, and then gets rid of the crunched material.
That makes what we call sand. One parrotfish, with his or her tiny mouthfuls, makes hundreds of pounds of sand a year.
Now that’s an accomplishment.
So what’s this got to do with democracy? Suppose for a moment that the conduct of public policy is as important as eating. Maybe it’s not that important, but just suppose. People have to get along somehow. So do fish. Notice how the fish approach the Herculean task of eating and generating sand.
You will notice that the fish in a cove do not sit back and elect seven other fish to do the chewing for them.
They don’t elect a city council of fish to go out and do the chewing and be responsible for handing out the food.
The fish in the cove also don’t sit back and let a few other fish activists do all the work.
Nope. The cove reverberates with the sound of hundreds or thousands of fish, all chewing.
That’s what digital democracy on the Internet should be. It shouldn’t be blips of posts and dialogue from council members, from staff, from just a few individual citizens who happen to know how to Tweet or post. There should be a way, someday, for a digital dashboard to light up, or sound off, to measure massive citizen participation: Not just the participation of a few.
And that’s the trick for Gov 2.0 and digital democracy. What forms of hardware, software and public practices will take us to a digital democracy as participatory as that of the conduct of the parrot fish? Can’t we rise to their standard?
I recently asked a bunch of folks how they are getting information about a particular topic when they don’t read newspapers. Not that long ago, the answer used to be news websites and blogs; more and more, the answer is, Twitter.
It makes sense. In a lot of the circles where I run, including elected officials, people unfamiliar with the service think it’s all about people Tweeting what they ate for breakfast. Well, it sometimes is. But Twitter also allows people to exchange links. When I look back, I’m amazed at the amount of information I’ve taken over the transom via Twitter. It’s yet another reason elected officials should sign up and listen, not only about their communities but other topics of interest.
That’s my way of introducing a broad theme that I write thanks to all this information, Hints of the Future. Each of these sites are a sign of something that’s bound to grow and develop. I found some of these sites via Twitter messages, and some through good ol’ fashioned blogs.
Online City Council: This just floors me. You can send a Twitter message or post to Facebook a *part* of a council meeting that might interest people. There’s a nice overview about the significance of this site here.
Why would this ability come in handy? It’s a lot more significant than breakfast. This is all about informing and involving people. In my town, for example, we had a political dispute about some folks who didn’t want to fund social services programs that serve Latinos and gay people. This is an incredibly shocking discussion for this century. But almost no one knew about the situation because we don’t have a community print newspaper. We just have a big metro daily that strains under declining staff numbers to report anything, and a local news blog that can’t afford a reporting staff. It would have been amazing to be able to send out a Tweet saying, ‘Hey, watch this broadcast.’ I bet we would have got some public feedback.
Idea exchanges: If someone asks me what Government 2.0 would look like in, say, a year, I think of a site like this. People exchanging ideas. That’s what it’s all about. I found this site by way of a Tweet, like described earlier, from Seattle tech whiz Bill Schrier.
Reacting to change: I am fascinated with how big ol’ staid government reacts to change. Here’s something found on Twitter, a story about a city that decided to ban access to Facebook. Expect to see a lot on this subject in coming months as governments try to decide how to interact with the public via Facebook. I am liking it more and more because it’s one place where you don’t get anonymous comments.
Good models: Several Twitter posts let the world know about model websites such as one from Virginia Beach. More and more websites are going to look like the sites listed at that link, and push the limits of providing service and information. Thanks to Twitter, one can know about these model sites now and see not only the present but a brighter future.
That’s long enough but there are plenty of other examples of great sites that one can learn about via Twitter. One can expect more and more services to spring up to aggregate and sort through the raging floods of Twitter posts today. For now, most elected officials as a baseline will want to monitor what’s being said in and about their community. I’ve got a post on my own council website on how listening via Twitter led me to convey a citizen concern. One can expect more and more communities and elected officials will take advantage of these tools to better serve citizens.
Listened in Wednesday on the C-SPAN coverage of the Potomac Forum discussion of new technologies and government: the Gov 2.0 Leadership, Collaboration, and Public Engagement Symposium. One phrase kept rattling through my head later in the day, stated by Jack Holt, Senior Strategist for Emerging Media for the Department of Defense, Defense Media Activity.
The Defense Department is doing a lot of innovative things in terms of communicating with the public. Holt was asked if there are risks that information might be revealed. His response was, you have to remember that social media is publishing. And he went on to say, there are rules when you publish something: rules about defamation, for example. One must, or should, follow the rules when publishing. That’s a very productive line of thinking, because every local elected official should be familiar with the rules of the publishing road if he or she is going to become a publisher.
I’m going to dive into the wiki guide to a local official’s use of social media some of us have been working on and add that phrasing. Remember, you are publishing. As detailed in my post a couple days ago, some government officials have got into trouble for thinking what they are doing on Twitter or Facebook is whispering. It ain’t. It’s distribution of a form previously undreamed of.
I’m sitting in the Bell Harbor Conference Center in Seattle at Gnomedex, a technology conference. A lot of the discussion is about current and future tech …. like an amazing desktop printer that doesn’t print out on paper, it prints out small objects in plastic. It’s a 3-D printer.
What I see in my mind are an army of small plastic objects that a child might design on a computer using 3-D software and then make – “print out” – in the real world.
Lately what’s been on my mind as a blogging councilman is what is going to happen in November after the election. We’re going to have a lot of new local elected officials who have used social media tools like blogs, Twitter, Facebook and such in order to communicate and thus, in order to get elected. They are going to come out of the gate expecting to use these tools as local elected officials.
There isn’t, to my knowledge, any way of orienting these folks to how they should behave once elected. So my plan right now is try to convene some other Washington elected officials and see if we can come up with something in a hurry.
Why am I concerned? Well, here’s the deal. Three of the people who use social media in this state ran into trouble:
1. A councilman from Olympia got embarrassed by use of social media. I’ve known Jeff for a long time. He is a smart guy, and a conscientious person. If he can make a mistake, so can I.
2. And I did. I blogged during a council meeting when people don’t expect you to type during a meeting, and paid dearly for it. Good intentions don’t count. I don’t know if I am as smart or as conscientious as Jeff, but I sure try. So that’s two of us now.
3. More recently, a sister in the use of social media to communicate, a councilwoman from Mukilteo, got embarrassed via Twitter. Her situation also shows council members could maybe have known a little more about what business should be done in public and how meetings should be conducted. It’s good the discussion among councilmembers came to light via her post, but maybe that wasn’t the best way.
And it’s clearly not a Washington thing. A political figure in Oregon was caught very publicly unawares because he apparently did not realize Facebook is a public forum whatever your privacy settings might claim.
I’ve been trying to decide if it’s good or bad that I had not read Beth S Noveck’s book Wiki Government before preparing this presentation for Barcamp Tacoma, a tech event near my home. Maybe it’s good I didn’t include her points, because the talk went on long enough. I was trying to summarize a wealth of information about how close, and yet so far, we are to tying people, participation, and government together in the digital age. It seems to me a truly collaborative government could not engage citizens but really solve some problems.
You don’t need to view the slideshow to follow the rest of this post, which refers to a paragraph from Noveck’s book that hit me in the face like the proverbial gush of cold water. I just read it in a diner in Edgewood, Washington, and was so absorbed that I looked down and realized at some point I had eaten two chicken burritos and some white chili but had no memory of them. The book is a good read for anyone interested in the future of participatory democracy.
To be honest, it had not occurred to me that the problem is a lack of demand for digital democracy.
Clearly, there is widespread recognition we have a long ways to go. I will share more about the Noveck book, but I just had to share this comment from page 147 because it seems starkly on target and deadly right on:
While there has been a groundswell of attention to the problem of transparency in government and the need for government to release information that is accessible, searchable, and usable, there is no similarly widespread outcry for participation or collaboration.
Perhaps because the ideal of citizen engagement in government – as distinct from civic life – seems so unattainable or because our experience with citizen participation has been so anemic or because neither government professionals nor the public has yet embraced the theory of shared and collaborative expertise, no blue-ribbon commissions have been convened to address what it might require to reengineer the role of the public in governance.
(Walter interrupts the paragraph: Wow, I would have edited that last sentence differently, but read it again. It’s a Zinger. What Beth Noveck is basically saying is that we are asleep to the potential of a stronger democracy)
Just as incumbent businesses are slow to rethink old business models, there does not seem to be a great deal of political will among professionals, who are understandably mired in the day-to-day, to use the newly available technology to develop more effective governance through collaboration.
That’s a new way, to me, of considering the question. Creating demand: what will it take to get the public excited about the potential of collaborative government?
As Facebook becomes more popular, it seems to become more effective. I posted a note asking for volunteers for our city’s transportation board, and I already had a person respond to the Facebook post. That’s better than I’ve seen via blogs or email.
Obviously, more testing is needed, but this is a good sign.
Yet I am leery of putting more time into Facebook. Here’s where I see a problem with Facebook as the definitive networking solution. You can be a friend or a supporter, but you can’t apparently just be a contact or monitor. The language used within Facebook has not caught up with its popularity. That can create awkwardness both in business and politics.
This has been nagging at me awhile, but a casual chat last night really brought it to mind.
One of my fellow Lakewood city council members has been on vacation in Hawaii. He has posted some pictures of himself scuba-diving. I mentioned after the meeting last Monday to the city manager that I was enjoying the updates on the councilman’s trip and mentioned the pictures on Facebook. The city manager said something about how he really needs to get on Facebook, but then commented, “But that raises the question, should I be a “friend” of a council member?”
Well, that’s a darn good question. The city manager directly reports to the city council. In a way, it’s like asking if an employee in any job should friend a supervisor. And yet when public officials are in a spotlight, it seems reasonable to me that government employees would want to keep in touch with what they are doing via Facebook.
My inclination would be to tell the city manager, sure, ‘friend’ me and the other council members. But let’s say I run for re-election …. would someone accuse me of being “too close” to the city manager? What do people, particularly those unfamiliar with Facebook, consider a ‘friend?’
The reason this has been on my mind at all is because there are a couple of organizations I’ve thought about following on Facebook but haven’t. That’s because of how Facebook describes someone who follows a page. Right now, if you decide to follow my City Council page, you are listed as a “supporter” of Walter Neary, the councilman. Well, I’d love that … but it also seems that someone who might want to withhold judgment or someone who might even want to run against me would want to follow my page. It’s very strange for that person to have to sign up as a “supporter.”
Myself, I’d love to follow a couple of business competitors of my employer, Comcast. I know people who work at some of the other companies; it’s not like business competition has to be personal. I’d love to know what they are up to, and would be delighted if they showed interest in my company’s local Facebook page. But it seems odd and awkward that I a Comcast employee have to sign up as a “supporter” of Verizon.
Here’s a bit of an unusual wrinkle on this matter: There’s one business competitor of ours in Tacoma that twice mailed to people attacks on the effectiveness of what I do for the company, community relations. Needless to say, I sure don’t want to sign up as a “supporter” of folks who put out a mailing that misled my wife when she read it. That hurt. I’m no supporter of that. But I’d like to follow their page on Facebook, if only to see if they continue to say anything misleading about me or what I do.
So in business and politics, I see a disconnect between Facebook’s use of the terms “friends” and “supporters,” and it’s growing use as a broad social portal and town hall. What do you think?
A postscript: Some of the readers who have been at politics and social media for awhile will have another question. If the city manager and I are friends on Facebook, might we generate email to each other outside the city email system that would have to be disclosed through the public records act? And wouldn’t that be an archiving nightmare? Yes, and yes, so that alone might settle the question. But my point remains, does Facebook have the best language for its role as a social portal?)
It’s already been widely noted in the Twitter community that two different speakers played the same segment at this year’s Internet Strategy Forum in Portland. You should watch it before we proceed. It shows a character portrayed by Tom Cruise walking down the streets, with advertisements coming up just for him.
The reason people played and talked about the segment is that the era of personalized advertising is here. Now, it’s unlikely a hologram is going to follow me as I walk offering me drinks. But the point speakers were making is that personalization is coming.
Nobody talked about the implications for democracy and the conduct of public policy and government; sadly, for a second year, nobody else from government was in sight at the conference. But the implications are huge.
Let’s talk about the business implications for a second. Consider how you already shop at Amazon or other Internet shopping or travel sites. You can look up reviews of books or hotels or many other products. Amazon makes suggestions for what sort of books you might want to buy based on your preferences and past buying history. That’s not new stuff.
What’s new is how this era of personalization is extending. So, for example, the keynote speaker, Jeremiah Owyang of Forrest Research used the example of how Volkswagen, in an ad, asked for permission to scan his Twitter stream. The computer program found the word ‘family’ mentioned in his Tweets, so it recommended a station wagon to him. You can read more about this subject at Jeremiah’s blog posting.
The other thing he noted that is you can now browse web pages within Facebook. What that means in practical terms is that Facebook can overlay what it knows about your friends with what you see on that web page. So we are coming to an age, where I could go to Facebook, call up a car company’s web page, and the browser will tell you what all your friends think of that particular car company. Imagine wanting to buy anything – cable service, a computer, a lawnmower – and being able to find out what your trusted friends think of the options. In fact, Jeremiah noted, companies are already starting to do this, such as Get Glue.
This brings us back to the clip from Minority Report. My mobile phone contains my Facebook information. Imagine when I can hold my phone up to a sign in a store, and it tells me about the products I may be interested in (the sign might say, “Hey, Walter, it’s your anniversary in a month, we have some ideas for what you can buy Cindy …”)
So let’s bring it home to government. Just think about what this means for democracy. Within the near future, someone will be able to call up a politician’s name on a newspaper website or web page and see exactly what his or her friends think of the person. Imagine calling up my web page either on the Internet or on Facebook and being able to see what your friends think of my voting record on the budget, parks, roads, etc… The information exchange is going to be breathtaking.
It also means politicians will be under sharp demand to consider what people think of them. Right now, I’d argue, the pressure is on candidates and politicians to think most especially of such things the year they are running for election or re-election. But if there is a community constantly generating recommendations and building up momentum 24 hours a day, then politicians will be held to a high standard of accountabilty. It’s an exciting era.
Right now, you might see a special interest group rank a politician once a year. Imagine a world where we are ranked 24/7 AND not by interest groups, but by something that will grow to be more powerful: your unique-to-you trusted friends.
This also applies to government, of course. People will be ranking aspects of government. And …
Will government respond by personalizing? Will there be a time when the government scans your tweets, decides you live in Lakewood and you are interested in dogs, and then send you notes about our dog park?
Will you walk into a city council chambers or go to a city council website, put in some simple info or pass a card or your phone by a printer, and then watch as detailed reports and future agenda schedules about a particular topic or street address come up just for you?
What other implications do you see for democracy in an age of increasing Internet personalization?