Friday, September 21, 2012

How do you know that's really a government social media account?

On the internet, as they say, no-one knows if you're a dog - or a government agency.

This can become a problem when Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, even websites, are set up that look like government accounts, but aren't.

We've seen this issue in the private sector, such as with fake Shell accounts that took in the media and the public.

It has also happened in the public sector, most often in the US and the UK.

It happens here in Australia too. Do we really know whether, for example, @ACTGov is a government Twitter account, or a fake account? (in fact I'm not really sure, but don't think it is)

This can obviously create problems for citizens and for governments. What if citizens get taken in by a fake account and make a poor financial or health decision?

What responsibility does the government has to ensure that citizens don't get defrauded in this way?

The US government has now taken steps to address this in a proactive way (ie - before there's a media scandal).

As reported by the eGovernment Resource Centre, the US government is developing a new tool that verifies the authenticity of government social media sites.

The tool will require agencies to use a special system that only allows people with authentic government email accounts to register their official government social media accounts.

There will then be a public validation facility on leading US government sites where users can check whether a particular account in listed or not.

This turns the burden of proof around. If an agency fails to register its accounts, they will have lower authenticity because they won't be in the central database. This provides an incentive for agencies to register.

Users can check whether accounts are listed and feel secure that if one is then it is government operated.

Simple but smart. It protects citizens and also keeps track of government social media accounts, allowing a central directory to be crowdsourced.

I wonder if our government will consider similar steps to protect Australians and promote engagement with agencies?

It isn't a hard system to build, and it isn't expensive to operate.

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