Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Where are Australia's tweeting councils and do they have enough followers

I've mapped the 222 local government Twitter accounts I track to their geographic locations around Australia (excluding NT), and it forms an interesting picture.

UPDATE: I've updated the map data to include NT data, thanks to the help of @Maxious, who found an ABS dataset which includes them.

Local government use of Twitter in Australia by tweets - zoom for detail
There was a direct correlation between population density and the propensity of councils to tweet. This was intriguing, but not surprising.

While Twitter is most useful as a real-time news and interaction service, and therefore has enormous value in sharing information across geographically large regional councils, a combination of limited internet infrastructure and experience using services like Twitter tends to create a digital divide between rural and metro councils. As a result, many of the local governments that could most benefit from Twitter's capabilities are the least likely to use it.

One of the most critical factors on Twitter is the number of followers an account has. This is because the more followers, the greater the impact of your tweets. This becomes particularly important when distributing information on disasters, consultations or even for customer service purposes, where more people can view and act on answers to questions.

In analysing how local governments have done in building their Twitter followings, the results were quite dim. Only the six largest council accounts, all from major city councils, had more than 7,000 followers, while the average number of followers for all local government accounts was only 1,043 - compared to 2,556 for Federal and 2,459 for state and territory government Twitter accounts.

The average number of followers by state varied quite significantly, with Queensland councils tending to have the most followers (2,073 on average), followed by Victoria (a long way back at 1,196) and NSW (on 873) . Tasmania and the Northern Territory did worst, with councils in those jurisdictions having an average of 448 and 239 followers respectively.

The data also suggested only a weak correlation between how active a council was on Twitter and the number of followers they had. As pictured in the chart below, the councils that tweet most frequently are not necessarily those with the most followers and there was only a slight correlation for councils with a higher than average (1,000) followers.

Note I used a logarithmic scale for Followers in all of the following charts to emphasise the spread.

Looking at account age, there was some indication that the longer a council had operated its Twitter account, the more likely it was to have accumulated more followers, however the chart for this (below) didn't really strike me as that impressive. Many older accounts still languished below average (1,000 followers) and local councils who had more than the average number of followers were only marginally older than the average account.

A slightly stronger correlation was with the number of accounts a local council followed. Councils with more than 1,000 (average) followers were significantly more likely to follow more accounts, however it was unclear if this was a cause of their level of followers or the effect of them following people back.

To provide a comparison on this last chart, below I've looked at Twitter accounts operated by state and Commonwealth agencies on the same axes. In this case it looks as though councils have done better than other levels of government in achieving a good divident of followers by following people.

So to sum up, it looks as though neither the length of time a council operates an account, the level of active tweeting or the number of people followed adequately, or together come close to explaining why some local councils do better at gaining Twitter followers than other.

So let's consider the two elephants in the room - council resident population and connectivity. Councils with small population bases will struggle to build their numbers significantly unless their content is either tourism-based or extremely entertaining. Equally councils with poor internet infrastructure are likely to have fewer people using social media and hence less Twitter users to follow the council.

Unfortunately I don't have detailed information on the population in every council region (though I am putting this together at the moment), nor do I have a map of internet connectivity speeds across Australia.

However I have reviewed a sample of councils in WA, NSW and Victoria, and from my understanding of this data (not yet sufficiently processed for publishing) population has a significant impact on Twitter follower numbers for councils and connectivity probably does as well.

So what should councils do to increase their follower count and improve the effectiveness of their Twitter engagement?

The first and most basic steps are to ensure the council has the right Twitter accounts in place and there's staff able to, and responsible for, managing them. They should also follow an active (and entertaining) tweeting program and follow people, to build awareness - these steps do appear to increase following, at least modestly.

Alongside these steps, local governments should take actions to inform their residents about their Twitter account and its benefits. This can be done via their other material (bills, pamphlets, websites, business cards, etc), and also provide classes and training on how to use the service - both for residents and their own staff.

Finally, while councils are unable to change their population numbers significantly in a short time, they are often able to take steps to improve internet connectivity and usage in their region. This can involve lobbying the NBN to provide or accelerate services, or installing their own networks to provide a solution where commercial providers cannot financially justify wiring a town.

This last approach has been taken in the US and, to a lessor extent in the UK, and I am aware of a few old examples in Australia. I think this is still a valid approach in Australia, particularly for councils receiving limited NBN wiring, and one that needs to be considered for the economic as well as the communications benefits.

Notes and caveats
All Twitter usage data was current at 25 January 2013.

The map has been updated to use ABS derived local government boundaries.
I may not be monitoring all government accounts in Australia. New ones are created regularly and while I update my list on a regular basis it is unlikely to include all goverment accounts at all times. However I am confident it contains the vast majority of accounts and is statistically accurate.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Does Tourism Australia have the world's biggest social media team?

Tourism Australia has released a fascinating study of their success in using social media to raise awareness of Australia as a travel destination, including a guide to how other organisations can use similar approaches to build engagement online, espousing principles such as:
  • Create platforms that your fans can build on 
  • Make your advocates the heroes 
  • Surf waves (both big and small)
  • Make stories social, and to
  • Test and learn
The study contains some great insights. 95% of content in their social media platforms is contributed by fans, the See Australia Facebook page's 4.1 million friends have 457 million friends and Tourism Australia tries to act as Yoda, rather than Luke Skywalker (see the study below for an explanation).

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Infographic: The Australian Government's commitment to open data

Last Friday the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner released a major report on the release of public sector information by Australian Government agencies.

The report, Open public sector information: from principles to practice, is available online and is a relative straightforward read.

The OAIC also released the aggregated data for the report into - modelling the behaviour that other government agencies should follow (though I would have preferred raw data).

This contains lots of additional data worth reviewing that someone who just reads the report won't learn. You can find this file from:

I've developed a three page infographic (embedded below) using some of the data released for this report to explore the Australian Government's commitment to open data and the types of challenges agencies say they face.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

View the UK open policy presentation from Gov 2.0 Canberra lunchtime event in February 2013

Gavin Tapp has been doing his magic so, with the support of the ACT Government, Ben Fowkes' presentation on open policy in the UK from February's Canberra Gov 2.0 event is now available for your viewing pleasure.

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Moderating friends and relatives - when official duties and personal life collide

I've had several discussions lately with people managing official government social media channels about the most difficult moderation challenge they face - their families and friends.

It is very common practice for people launching a new social media channel for their agency to tell their friends and relatives about it, both to share something they are enthusiastic and proud of doing and to help get an early boost in numbers - which may significantly amplify growth of the channel over time.

However this approach can also bear risk. While you may care for them dearly, friends and family may be just as prone to ignore the terms of use or moderation guidelines for a social media channel - saying something off-topic, out-of-line, trolling or simply being inappropriate - as complete strangers.

In fact the risk might even be greater with some of these relationships. Some of them may have limited experience using social media and be less familiar with the ground rules of online conversation. Others may feel that your relationship with them allows them to speak more frankly or reveal personal information - an equivalent situation to when your parents tell a new boy or girlfriend embarrassing stories from your childhood.

Clearly it's inappropriate to favour friends and family, giving them special treatment when they break any of the rules of an official agency (or, for that matter, company) page. However it is often more difficult to moderate your mother or best friend than a total stranger due to your personal relationship and the potential personal fall out of a moderation decision or ban.

At the same time it can be impractical or impossible to simply exclude them from a social networking page. Your friends and family members might be in the target audience you're seeking to reach, if not they can be curious or proud of your achievements and may follow or friend the official pages you manage as a show of support.

So how should you handle situations where a family member or friend bends or breaks the rules of an official community you manage?

Below I've identified four different tactics, which should be considered based on the nature of the community, the closeness of your relationship and the type and extent of the breach.

Often the best approach is to delegate moderation to an uninvolved party at your work, someone who doesn't know your friend or relative and is able to review the situation with an objective eye. This gives you an appropriate separation from the situation, both for official and personal purposes.

This approach works well when a page is run collectively by several people, or where the breach is borderline and your judgement might be suspect due to a personal connection.

However it does run the risk of both official and personal fallout. Some people may not appreciate that you were arms-length from the decision, leading to personal relationship issues, a few may even see the moderation call as a personal affront and contact your agency, Minister, the media or broadcast their concerns via other social media channels and groups.

This is where personal judgement comes in. If Uncle Jack is known for his strong responses to perceived snubs, or your friend happens to be a journalist or a blogger and has been known to write about their experiences, you might wish to consider a different tactic before delegating responsibility for a decision.

Personal approach
Another way of dealing with inappropriate conduct by family or friends is to make a personal approach to them, by phone, in person or (at worst) by email.

The approach would be to make them aware of their conduct and how it breaches, or seems to be leading towards a breach, of the terms of use for the community and help them understand the difficult position this places you in as their relative or friend.

Some people respond well to this approach, appreciating that it is your job, career and reputation that they might be damaging through their actions. They may be willing to either step down their engagement or step away from the community altogether in order to not hurt you publicly and professionally.

This 'softly softly' approach works well with close relatives and friends who care more about you than about the topic of discussion, and can head off potential issues quickly, though may need to be repeated with some people who have difficulty curbing their enthusiasm or are unaware when their behaviour is offensive or inappropriate towards others.

It doesn't work as well with people more distant or who have strong ideological views on a topic. Equally it might not be effective with friends or relatives who are very unfamiliar with or poor at social media or other social conventions, essentially those known for putting their foots in their mouths at every opportunity (though you love them dearly).

It is important to use your critical judgement as to your relative or friend's character before approaching them personally as some people may react indignantly or angrily to what they see as accusations that they did something wrong. Equally the channel by which you approach them is important - some people prefer face-to-face, others phone. Rarely does email (with its lack of personal touch) work in this situation.

Bite the bullet
On some occasions, such as when you are the sole manager of an official community, where a person is only distantly a friend or relative, where you know they can handle 'rejection' or where potential personal relationship damage isn't a concern, you might choose to simply bite the bullet and moderate their comments or ban them, just like any other participant.

This, while challenging, is often the best approach professionally as it demonstrates your commitment to being fair in all circumstances, even when there is potential personal cost. It can also help build trust in the channel and within your organisation, in you.

There is the potential for this approach to cause tension in family and friendship circles, or even end relationships. However where you either have a limited relationship already with the person, or the situation warrants that you place your professional life ahead of your personal, this approach might be the right one to take.

Again this is a judgement call - and a hard one - you need to make based on the breach and the person. However when this approach is used well you can be surprised at the level of support you do receive from other family members or friends. Their respect and pride in your professionalism can outweigh the natural feelings of betrayal when you appear to be 'them' rather than 'us'.

Shut down
The most drastic approach, and the least used, is to close down the official channel in order to avoid professional or personal compromise. This is rarely a viable option, however there may be a few situations where it is better to close down the entire community rather than deal with the fallout of a particular decision.

I can't think of many examples when this would be the appropriate response, except if a community is already near its end and there's significant examples of high levels of inappropriate behaviour by a large number of participants. However the approach is worth keeping in mind as an option just in case such an opportunity presents itself.

While a shutdown can annoy a community, when done right it can be seen as the natural end of a process, leaving good memories without hard feelings. Generally my view is that government agencies have been poor at shutting down social media channels, due to lack of consideration of community lifespans or planning around shutdown procedures. I recommend that agencies develop their shutdown plan when they first establish social media channels, in order to manage the risks ahead of time.

So there's four approaches I recommend considering w dealing with those awkward situations when official duties and personal relationships collide through inappropriate behaviour by family or friends in an official agency social media community.

Can anyone recommend other approaches for dealing with this sensitive, but increasingly common concern?

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Gov 2.0 and public sector innovation needs both business and technology heads

At the Gov 2.0 lunchtime event last week (video coming soon), Darren, Manager, Media and Community Information, from the ACT's Emergency Services Agency talked about how closely he'd worked with Richard, his technical lead, to create their social media presence and new website.

He proudly told us the website had cost only $43 to build, using internal skills and an open source platform, and was hosted in two locations - Sydney and Melbourne - allowing it to scale to two million users per hour.

He talked about the iOS app his team had built, 'The Spot', which allowed the agency to post to the website and social media at any time from any place, and was being extended to support keyword-based social media monitoring - again at low cost.

It made me realise something I've known for a very long time, but not really put into context in a government sense.

To develop successful cost-effective Gov 2.0 solutions, organisations need the same skills as a entrepreneurial start-up company - a 'hustler' and a 'hacker', or in more politically correct language, a 'business guy' and a 'technical guy'.

Thinking back over all the successful websites and Gov 2.0 initiatives I've delivered, they all involved these two sets of skills,

As for myself, I'm the 'hustler' - with the skills to dream big dreams, identify market gaps and process improvement opportunities and sell them (at least part of the time) to the people who control the purse strings.

I've always worked with at least one 'hacker' - someone with the ability to turn concepts into code, ideas into reality. Whether it at a large government agency, or a tiny start-up, whether developing a national consultation platform for health, a map-centric data site or a leading games reviews site, without a hacker, many of my ideas can't get realised. Without a hustler, many hackers can never navigate the 'people web' to get the resources and support required to realise big dreams.

Of course there are rare exceptional individuals who are both in one package - hustler and hacker. However they are often not as successful as expected due to the sheer time required for both tasks and they can burn out extremely quickly if left to flounder to design, sell and deliver all on their own.

Hustling requires research, networking, contracts, following processes and jumping hurdles. Hacking involves intense thought to translate ideas into a developable concept and concentrated coding to realise the vision.

Government agencies seeking to innovation or implement Gov 2.0 initiatives need to look to build successful combinations of hustlers and hackers to succeed in their goals by integrating people with business heads with those with technical heads into the same 'cross-functional' teams.

If your agency is looking to promote innovation or adopt Gov 2.0 techniques, then take a leaf out of the book of organisations designed to innovate. Don't assign a business innovation champion, but neglect to involve ICT, or have the ICT team responsible for Gov 2.0 with no idea on what they are meant to do (and little time to do it in anyway).

Identify your hustlers - people good at coming up with ideas and selling them to management - and introduce them to your hackers - the coders who your other coders go to for help.

See where the sparks fly, which hackers and hustlers find common ground - ideas of what they believe should be done in order to replace how things are done.

Foster and support these pairs and larger groups, give them the opportunity and space to fail, and to succeed.

Then you'll see the innovations flow, new ideas for using technology to solve old problems and fix process gaps, ways to save money and improve performance - both incremental and disruptive approaches to change your agency into a productive, effective and risk-balanced organisation.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

TubeRank helps reduce the risks in creating viral government content

Viral content - content which gets shared across the internet and media very quickly (like a virus) - is often a controversial area of communication for organisations. While the approach can result in massive attention and awareness it can also lead to massive risks.

What if the content doesn't go viral, wasting your investment? (Like these nine viral failures)
What if it goes viral, but not in the way you'd prefer, damaging your reputation? (such as Witchery's girl with a jacket or Nestle's pedobear)?

Unintentionally viral content can also raise concerns, such as when Minister Shorten supported the Prime Minister, though it can have benefits, as demonstrated by the Prime Minister's 'misogyny speech'.

The concerns and risks around viral content have sometimes nobbled efforts to bring this approach into government campaigns. In fact the entire hit and miss of viral content makes it appear a high risk strategy for most organisations.

That said, agencies are still successfully employing viral techniques - such as the Dumb Ways to Die video from Victoria Metro (which reportedly has reduced 'dumb behaviour' by 20%) and the memes used in their Facebook pages by FaHCSIA and Queensland Police's What tha Friday Photos.

So are many companies and brands - as AdNew's Viral video chart (which is also powered by VAN) demonstrates at

So what if the risk of viral content going wrong was reduced? Would more agencies consider creating viral content?

I reckon so and that's what a new service from the Viral Ad Network (VAN), a sister company to Delib (for whom I am the Aussie Managing Director) now offers organisation.

The free TubeRank service is an online tool designed to assist organisations identify characteristics and approaches that help them create their own viral successes - reducing the risk of a viral dud.

TubeRank works by allowing creatives to select triggers (goals) and interests (audiences) for a campaign. TubeRank then provides relevant viral video examples, tips and a downloadable PDF tactics report on how to go about approaching the creation of successful viral content.

While TubeRank doesn't guarantee every viral will succeed, it improves the odds and helps reduce the risk of failure.

I've included the TubeRank tutorial video below and you can try out the service at

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Monday, February 11, 2013

How to build a smart and innovative government agency - abandon 19th century organisational principles

NetFlix has released its 'manifesto' detailing how they operate and why, a document that Facebook's COO has described as "the most important document to ever come out of Silicon Valley" and that has attracted well over three million views on Slideshare.

It is the best document I've ever seen on building a smart and innovative organisation and has many lessons for government agencies, as well as for businesses, on how to set organisational goals, develop policy and select and manage staff - which I hope senior government leaders take on-board.

I equate this to the organisational equivalent of the NBN, compared to 1960s fax machines.

Organisations that learn from Netflix's approach will be well-placed to address the challenges of modern society, being far more productive, effective and attractive to staff.

Whereas organisations that persist in applying a 19th Century organisational model designed for managing itinerant and illiterate workers undertaking repetitive manual tasks to 21st Century highly-education staff undertaking knowledge-focused outcomes will struggle to compete for talent and survival.

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Friday, February 08, 2013

LinkedIn hits two million - Infographic places Australia in that mix

In January this year LinkedIn reached 200 million active users globally, demonstrating that professional social networking is beginning to be recognised as being valuable alongside personal social networking.

I've just been sent their 'early adopter' infographic, which unlike the infographic on LinkedIn's blog (which gives great demographic breakdowns by profession), provides a view on the country breakdown of usage. This places Australia as growing, but still with significantly less take-up than the US, UK or Canada.

By the numbers, using population, roughly 13.5% of Australians actively use LinkedIn, compared to 23.6% of US citizens, 20.5% of Canadians and 17.7% British.

I put this down to Australia's conservative workplace culture.

We may be innovative and tech-savvy as individuals, but in the corporate, public and NGO sectors our workplaces lag on many international indicators for innovation and technology adoption compared to other nations in the OECD and western world.

Of course this is changing as social media becomes normalised in workplaces and the initial fear, uncertainty and doubt bred by ignorance is replaced by more confident and managed approaches - so I expect there to be plenty of upside growth for professional social networking in Australia in the next ten years.

This is something government agencies and companies need to keep in mind when looking at how they reach professional stakeholders and working citizens.

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Your help needed: Crowdfunding the Tim Berners-Lee tour

Whether or not you attended one of the events given in Australia by Sir Tim Berners-Lee in his TBLDownunder tour, it's likely his visit will have an impact on how Australian governments and their agencies think about openness, digital channels and online engagement.

During his visit Sir Tim, the inventor of the world wide web, raised the profile of open government, privacy, open data, high speed broadband amongst many of Australia's senior government Ministers and bureaucrats.

He spoke about digital democracy, privacy and open data - what governments can and should do, and what they should not - to decision-makers, policy writers and the public; 5,500 in-person at events and thousands more online.

The tour was sponsored, however at the last minute one sponsor pulled out, leaving a $20,000 shortfall.

To meet this, the tour's organisers have launched a crowdfunding exercise. As they say on the crowdfunding site's page, "If just 1000 individuals donate $20 each, we can cover this shortfall."

If you were pivileged to hear Sir Tim present during his Australian tour, consider donating.

If you were not able to hear Sir Tim speak, but believe that his tour will help you overcome barriers at your work, consider donating.

And if you don't think Sir Tim's presentations will help you in your job but will help Australian governments become more open and improve citizen engagement, consider donating.

$20,000 isn't that much to raise, if we're each prepared to give a little.

I've given. How about you?

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Thursday, February 07, 2013

A counterpoint & follow-up to my post on: Should government agencies & councils be entitled to ban people from their social media channels?

The example I used related to a Twitter conversation I'd had with Peter Hinton, who had been blocked from Parramatta City Council's Twitter account. As a Parramatta council resident and rate-payer he was concerned at his experience.

I didn't have details of his specific case, nor did I make any claims about his comments or the council's decision, rather using the situation to explore the area of agencies blocking citizens on social media channels.

Peter has published an articulate and well-reasoned letter providing details about his experience of being blocked. I thought it worth featuring as a counterpoint to my post, which he has kindly allowed me to republish as a guest post below.

Without commenting on the specifics of Peter's situation, I believe Peter's letter supports my views from yesterday. Agencies and councils have the capability (and willingness) to block citizens on social channels and they need clear guidelines in place about why, when and how they block them (if they do).

This needs to be supported by appropriate governance and scrutiny such that inappropriate blocking can be identified and corrected, with appropriate changes to processes or staff if required.

Peter Hinton:

If you’ve got a Twitter account and even the teensiest amount of gumption, you’ll probably know what it is to be blocked. Some receive a blocking with a sense of pride while others prefer to take offense. I’ll never forget the feeling of exhilaration when I received the telltale FORBIDDEN message when attempting to access the account of a Pray Away the Gay preacher in the US.  
Whether it’s used ag ainst an ex-lover or a dissatisfied customer that just won’t stop hijacking a carefully planned social media campaign, the result is the same. The blockee can no longer view, let alone comment on, your tweets. If you include their handle (eg: @peterjhinton) in one of your own tweets, it will be seen by others but not the intended recipient.  
Throughout my 10,000 tweet career on the world’s most popular microblog, I’ve been both the blocker and the blockee on many an occasion. 
But when I was blocked by Parramatta City Council last week, my immediate feeling was one of disenfranchisement . You see, I’m a resident of Parramatta. I pay rates to its council. I participate in the local government elections that install the Councilors who decide on matters that are quite literally close to home.  
My council isn’t a celebrity whose films I can ignore or an international brand that I can choose to boycott. To be blocked by a level of government is whole other matter and, I’d like to suggest, one that challenges the role of social media in our young democracy. 
Many Australians are surprised to learn that the drafters of our Constitution neglected to explicitly include many of the rights and freedoms that we exercise on a daily basis. There’s a whole section dedicated to lighthouses and telegraphic services but you will not find one reference to ‘freedom of speech’. For a document that forms the basis of our legal system, it lacks all of the life, liberty and pursuit of shiny things that spring from the parchment of the American Declaration of Independence. 
In fact, one of the few freedoms we officially enjoy is merely inferred. In the 1997 case of Lange vs. the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the High Court ruled that Australians had a constitutional right to freedom of political communication. While it’s not explicitly stated in the actual document, the full bench deemed free and open political communication to be vital to the preservation of democratic and responsible government. 
It’s this ruling that gave me the confidence to criticize my Lord Mayor, John Chedid, over his office’s treatment of the GLBT family support organization,Twenty10.  
On 17 January, dedicated Twenty10 volunteers were helping kids build kites at Parramatta City Council’s Family Fun Day when advisers, allegedly acting on Chedid’s advice, ordered the removal of the organisation’s signage. Chedid has never denied the allegations, instead stating that his advisers were only responding to complaints that the sign was “offensive”. Chedid eventually issued a private apology to Twenty10 but only after 12,000 people signed a petition demanding he do so
Like thousands of other netizens, I took to Twitter to hold my Lord Mayor accountable for the actions of his office. My comments swung wildly between the visceral and rational but they were always based on statements provided by either Twenty10 or Parramatta City Council. 
Council stuck to their social media crisis handbook. They knew not to block me while the crisis was still building. That would only aggravate the situation and provoke accusations that it had something to hide. Instead, it waited for the inevitable moment when the Twitterverse was caught in the gravitational pull of someone else’s very public faux pas. 
The realization that I had been blocked by my local government came on a Saturday morning one week after #ChedidGate when I attempted to review @parracity’s Twitter stream. My kids were bored and I wanted to see if Council was running any (ratepayer funded) activities. What I got was a big cross and the word FORBIDDEN. 
Forbidden? For what?! Surely not for exercising my right comment on the suitability of elected officials for public office! Surely not for defending some of Australia’s most marginalized families! You can bet it wasn’t for all of the favourable tweets that I’d submitted over the years: the photos of my kids laughing in playgrounds that were eagerly retweeted by Council’s own social media apparatchik. 
While social media offers new opportunities for citizens to converse with all three levels of government it’s a conversation for which the rules are still being defined. You only have to look at the replies to Julia Gillard’s or Tony Abbott’s tweets to know that the conversation isn’t always polite. But, then again, there was nothing in the High Court’s ruling to suggest that political communication needs to be polite. 
Constituents were insulting politicians long before Twitter, whether it was in a Letter to the Editor or a town hall meeting. Which leads conveniently to my mainpoint: there would be serious implications for the council that barred a ratepayer from a town hall meeting and quite rightly so. 
When it decided to block me, my council made a conscious decision to deny me access to its virtual town hall meeting. I’m not so unreasonable as to suggest that I’m now completely shut off from my politicians. I could still write a letter or appear before them in a real town hall meeting. 
My sense of disenfranchisement stems from the fact that somewhere inside the intensely ugly administration building of Parramatta City Council, a public servant took away a small part of my freedom. They did so without having to appear before a judge or even advise the person from which the freedom was removed. It was swift, opaque and final.  
I understand and even appreciate that social media offers few boundaries. It’s precisely because it’s not encumbered by the rules of the old guard that it’s become such a powerful tool for grass roots democracy. But, with your permission, I’d like to tender just one overarching rule: it should never be used by government to disempower its citizens.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Should government agencies & councils be entitled to ban people from their social media channels?

I've been advised of an interesting situation with a resident of the Parramatta Council area, who has been blocked by council from their Twitter account.

He's upset and has written to the Council, claiming that it is unconstitutional for a council to block its own rate-playing constituents from viewing their social media accounts, referring to the Lange vs ABC ruling in 1997.

While I'm unaware of the reason for this particular ban, it is an interesting situation and one we're likely to see more often.

Do citizens have a right to interact with government through any channel?

Do government agencies have the right to prevent individual citizens from accessing or interacting via their official social media channels?

If so, in which circumstances do agencies have this right?

In my view social media is no different from other mediums of communication with agencies in this type of situation.

Having worked for the Child Support Agency I'm broadly aware there were cases where querulant, abusive and threatening clients had restraining orders taken out to keep them away from Child Support offices and protect public servants from potential harm.

I have also heard of cases where clients have been banned from communicating with Child Support by phone, due to adversarial and abusive behaviour, and required to communicate with the agency only by writing. (Note I don't have names, places or other details, I'm just aware of these cases' existence.)

Without being a lawyer, I see bans from official social media channels as similar, subject to conditions and requirements.

Public servants have a right to go about their jobs without being abused and threatened by citizens, particularly in situations where staff have no power to influence laws or procedures. Equally agencies, like other employers, have an obligation to protect their staff from inappropriate conduct.

When people join the public service they don't give up the right to be treated with respected (although some in the media, politics and community forget this at times). Public servants should not be subjected to abuse or physical threats except where unavoidable in specific roles - police and defence personnel.

With social media it is relatively easy to set a terms of use and moderate the behaviour of participants through direct messages, moderation, temporary and permanent channel bans.

Generally citizens, constituents and clients have other avenues than social media for contacting agencies and councils, via mail, email, phone and in-person. They also have other ways to source the information they need to interact with councils in an effective manner.

So, in my non-lawyer view, as long as an agency or council makes acceptable conduct clear and other routes exist for citizens to source information and interact with government staff, banning a person from a Twitter, Facebook, or other online channel on a case by case basis, when necessary, is fine.

Of course agencies and councils should be held accountable for these bans, and should be prepared to justify the reasoning for their actions as part of their normal governance processes.

I have, myself, deleted citizen comments from government social media channels when they were off-topic, political or mildly abusive.

I have banned people from access where they were abusive, defamatory, threatening, encouraged violence or law breaking, were highly inappropriate, or where they repeatedly veered off-topic or became political in discussions where the terms of use and community guidelines made it clear that such conduct was unacceptable.

I'd always keep a copy of the term-breaking content as a record and, wherever possible with the social media tool, make it publicly clear why the deletion or ban occurred. When others I worked with managed social media channels, I advised similar scrutiny and approach.

All organisations need to be able to manage their official channels when users repeatedly ignore terms of use or engage via these social media channels for inappropriate ends.

So should government agencies & councils be entitled to ban people from their social media channels?

Yes, in my view, government agencies and councils should be entitled to delete comments and ban constituents from accessing and commenting on their official social media channels.

This is provided the terms of use are public, the moderation approach is balanced, there's appropriate governance and scrutiny in place and where citizens have other routes to source the same information or interact with agencies.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Mainstream media takes first steps in adopting open data hacker culture

On Monday 4 February The Age hosted the Data Newsroom event, where teams had an opportunity to dig into three previously publicly unreleased datasets,
  1. Political party funding data, which lists what companies donate money to which political parties.
  2. A database that includes the archives of all Age articles along with key words and relationships between those keywords.
  3. Weather data for Australia going back one-hundred years. 
 As reported by the Australian chapter of the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKFN), 14 teams consisting of journalists, hackers and citizens took on the challenge of producing an article from one of the datasets and convincing a 'Dragon's Den' panel of data journalists of the merits of their approach.

Four shortlisted teams got to go to the public lecture by web inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, at Melbourne  University where the winner was to be announced.

To follow what happens and who wins, follow the OKFN blog at

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Infographic: The top government Twitter accounts in Australia

In January 2013 I found that the total tweets by all government agencies and councils in Australia I track had exceeded one million.

As a reflection of that achievement I've worked through the data I have on the use of Twitter by government agencies and councils in Australia to produce the following infographic (scroll for more).

I'll be producing state by state (including territories and federal), local and topic-based infographics as a follow-up over the next few weeks, with more detailed information.

I'm considering writing an academic paper on the use of Twitter by government in Australia in case there's any academics out there who would be interested in co-authoring.

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Monday, February 04, 2013

Infographic: How Aussies with mobile phones spend their weekends

Google has released a fascinating infographic detailing the mobile use of Aussies in their blog post, Insights into the Mobile Aussie Weekend.

Useful for communications and policy people in government, it provides insights into how Australians are using their mobile phone to search the internet over weekends based on Google's statistical data.

A Day in the Mobile Aussie Weekend

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Register now for BarCamp Canberra

BarCamp Canberra is back, with the 6th annual event to take place on Saturday 16 March at the Inspire Centre.

The free event, which annually attracts 100-150 people, is a participation-based unconference, where every attendee is encouraged to actively participate in workshops, give a presentation on a favoured topic and to network with other attendees.

Given it is Canberra, alongside design, technology, data and similar topics, policy development and Government 2.0 are regularly subjects of discussion and presentations.

Note that third of tickets have already been booked for the event, so if you want to go, register now at:

Full details are at the BarCamp Canberra website:

To learn more about BarCamps, visit:

Caveat: I'm on the unorganising committee for BarCamp Canberra.

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Friday, February 01, 2013

Infographic: Which federal politicians are tweeting?

I'm continuing to work on statistics around government agencies and politicians who use Twitter in Australia.

Next week I'll provide detailed statistics on agencies, however given the date of the next Federal election was announced this week, I thought I'd provide a little more information on which of our politicians are tweeting, using the infographic below.

Interestingly while the Government is slightly better represented on Twitter than the oppositions (when including Independents and Greens), the shadow Ministry is better represented than the Ministry, particularly Shadow Parliamentary Secretaries (effectively junior Ministers) who are far likelier to use Twitter than their counterparts.

More statistics are available in my post last week and via my Google spreadsheet, which can be accessed via this post:

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