Friday, December 10, 2010

Should government policy be discussed in social media?

There's a fantastic series of articles being published over at FutureGov Asia-Pacific at the moment, introducing some very interesting perspectives on social media and government.

One asks, Should policy be debated in social media?, providing perspectives from senior leaders in different jurisdictions across the region.

There is a fair amount of diversity in the viewpoints, however the overall consensus appears to be that it should.

Several of those asked to comment pointed out that it is happening anyway - regardless of what governments may wish.

It is my view that we're past the point where government agencies and politicians have the luxury to choose where and how they form their policy. They can no longer fall back on government-controlled due process.

The crowd is now in command. Australians have many ways to make their views known, and are doing so on the matters of most concern to them.

Government agencies ignore active discussions at their own and at their ministers' peril. If they don't consider the views being expressed through social media channels - even when they are not being expressed through a government social media channel - there is the potential for them to damage their own credibility and reputation and even to call the APS and Government into disrepute.

The most recent example has been the Australian Government's approach to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Regardless of whether people support the actions of Wikileaks, there's been enormous public support for Australia to treat him 'fairly', providing appropriate consular support for him whilst under arrest in the UK.

For example, the Open letter: To Julia Gillard, re Julian Assange, hosted at ABC The Drum, has attracted over 4,600 comments (predominantly in support) alongside the more than 180 people directly signing the letter.

There have been large numbers of comments on other articles, blog posts, forum discussions, videos and tweets about the Wikileaks situation, with the same general viewpoint. The poll at the SMH (Should government agencies take more action to stop WikiLeaks operating?) is trending in the same way.

These comments have not been made directly to the Australian Government through channels and processes it had established for this purpose. There's certainly been no direct 'public consultation' on Wikileaks to help the Government consider its policy.

We've now seen public assurances from several senior Ministers that Julian Assange will, and is, receiving consular support, as would any other Australian in a difficult situation overseas.

This should be a wake-up call for all Australian public servants and politicians.

Ministers and agencies can still choose whether and how they hold a defined consultation around a given policy proposal. However Australians won't necessarily only make their views known when and through these processes, they will use social media - in spades.

Ignore them at your own risk.

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