Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Social Media and the Federal Government - Perceived and Real Barriers and Potential Solutions

The name of this post is the title of a paper published by the US Federal Web Managers Council, the peak body for federal government web managers in the United States.

The US is facing similar policy, legal and privacy issues around the use of Web 2.0 tools and this paper is a step towards consistently addressing them across agencies.

The paper is almost as useful for Australian government web managers and senior public servants.

The full paper is available at usa.gov in PDF format as, Social Media and the Federal Government: Perceived and Real Barriers and Potential Solutions

To help tempt you to read and circulate the paper, topics contained within it (each detailing the issue and potential solutions) include,
  • Cultural issues and lack of a strategy for using these new tools - Many [US] agencies view the use of social media as a technology issue, instead of a communications tool, and management decisions are often based solely on technology considerations. In many cases, the focus is more on what can’t be done rather than what can be done.

  • Employee access to online tools - Many [US] agencies block their employees from using sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Wikipedia. They make one of three arguments, all of which can be addressed through effective policies and management controls.

  • Terms of service - Most online sites require account owners to agree to terms of service that [US] federal agencies can't agree to

  • Advertising - Many vendor sites place ads on all their pages; this is how they earn money from free accounts. For some [US] agencies, this raises ethical concerns when government content appears near inappropriate advertisements (pornography, hate, political, etc), because it can give the appearance that the government is endorsing the content. What constitutes “advertising” is interpreted differently across government.

  • Procurement - [US] Government procurement rules didn't anticipate the flood of companies offering free tools to anyone who wants to use them.

  • Privacy - There is no guarantee that social media sites will protect people's privacy to the same degree as [US] federal agencies.

  • Persistent Cookies - [US] Agencies are banned from using persistent cookies without approval from their agency head, which effectively means the [US] federal government isn't using them. This greatly limits our ability to serve customers' needs because our sites can't remember preferences or settings. It also means we can’t take advantage of sophisticated web services and analytic tools that rely on persistent cookies.

  • Access for people with disabilities - Many social media tools are automatically accessible because they are primarily text (e.g., blogs). However, some multimedia sites do not currently provide the opportunity to include transcripts or captioning, and many [US] agencies lack sufficient resources to provide these services on their own.

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