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Wayne State University

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Nov 20 / Kimberly Mason

Can Social Media Affect Information Policy Making?

Written by Sianee Hawkins

When was the last time you sat down to write your state representative? Have you ever been actively involved in developing an information policy (IP)? I define IP as the collection of laws, rules, regulations and policies, formal and informal, dealing with information from its creation, collection and dissemination that directly restrict, encourage, or otherwise shape flows of information. The advent of the Internet along with the World Wide Web has introduced different ways to access and disseminate information using new technologies such as Web 2.0. Due to these innovations, it has become relevant to develop laws and regulations affecting their proper and fair consummation.

According to Atta (2012), “Web 2.0 technologies provide members of the learning community with new and innovative ways to create, disseminate, and share information both individually and collaboratively.” Web 2.0 technologies include Google AdSense, Flickr, Wikipedia, blogging, tagging (folksonomy), RSS, and social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Cohen’s (2009) explanation that “Social Media can be called a strategy and an outlet for broadcasting, while Social Networking is a tool and a utility for connecting with others” provides a good explanation of the differences between social media and social networking. Both technologies have seen exponential growth in recent years in organizations, governments, and with individuals. They can be instrumental in policy making, such as fostering interactions between policy makers, their constituencies, and government officials.

Web 2.0 technologies increasingly are becoming more available on mobile hardware, as well as computers. We live in a mobile world with smart phones and cloud applications, with the expectation that we can access information anywhere, anytime. For example, Twitter, which is limited to 140 characters, can be used on your smart phone. You can use your phone to check your Facebook account.

Jaeger, Bertot & Shilton (2012) reveal that technology such as social media “has quickly become a primary tool to disseminate government information, connect with members of the public, and provide access to services.” It contributes to shifting power away from states and institutions and transferring it to individuals, as we saw during the Arab Spring. According to Lesch and Haas (2012), the “Arab Spring unexpectedly developed in late 2010 with peaceful protests in a number of Arab countries against long-standing, entrenched regimes, and rapid political change across the region ensued.” Using social media, the revolutions of the Arab Spring awakened the world with speed, strength and contagious mobilization efforts. People were able to communicate by bypassing the government. Social media was major factor in the regime change of Tunisia and Egypt.

The U.S. Government uses an information policy environment to establish guidelines for access, use, management, and preservation of information. Access to information and new communication channels such as Facebook and smart phones present new opportunities for people to actively participate in voicing their opinions on governmental policy to make sure that government leaders respond to the peoples’ will and dynamically change the course of society. This social media/social networking digital empowerment enables their voices to be heard, compels democratic governments to include more people in deliberations and decision making, and consult the public before making policies that affect public interests.

Social media has made a major impact on government policy making. Some characteristics that give social media this leverage are: the almost instantaneous range of opinions and issues posited, stronger connectivity between users, and reduced online anonymity. Unfortunately, this technology is still in its infancy. We have not been able to develop policies quickly enough to regulate other institutions. Facebook, which is one of the most popular free social networking websites, can decide any day to change its privacy policy and there is little we can do about it. An example is the introduction of “Graph Search” in March 2013. Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg clarified that Graph Search is not web search, but rather a means of digging through the massive amounts of information on the site to find exactly who or what a person wants to find. He further revealed that the searches will initially be limited to people, places, interests and photos, but posts and status messages will be searchable at some point in the future.

Facebook’s mission to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected is a double-edged sword. Users who are not diligent in applying privacy controls may be vulnerable due to the information that they are posting. For example, people using social networks during the Arab Spring may be on the radar of government officials that are not happy with the political results that transpired.

Privacy issues resulting from social network and social media have spread pervasively. People need to be aware that when posting to any of these technologies, they are building an online identity that will be available permanently. Many people feel that creating privacy settings prevents information of this nature from being seen by others, but hacking and the advent of tools like the “graph search”, has proved otherwise.

Rather than use social media to only get “positive” public opinions, government needs to utilize the technology to engage deliberations, discussions and decisions, so that more inclusive information policies are developed. Users of social media should be conscious of the kind of information they are posting because information placed on the Web is permanent.

References

Atta, A. (2012). Web 2.0: A Movement within the Learning Community. Information Management & Business Review, 4(12), 625-631.

Cohen, L. (2009). Is there a difference between social media and social networking? Retrieved from http://lonscohen.com/blog/2009/04/difference-between-social-media-and-social-networking/

Jaeger, P. T., Bertot, J. C., & Shilton, K. (2012). Information policy and social media: Framing government—citizen Web 2.0 interactions. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4614-1448-3_2#page-1

Lesch, D. W., & Haas, M. L. (2012). The Arab Spring : Change and Resistance in the Middle East. Retrieved from http://www.wayne.eblib.com.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=991112