Thursday, May 07, 2009

Timely News

USA Today is not a periodical that I generally associate with thorough coverage of the subtleties of e-government, but it was interesting to note that this week they have devoted some of their online column space to how the Obama administration is using social media. In "White House joins Facebook, MySpace, Twitter," the newspaper looks at quantitative measures of interest in these new outreach efforts, as friends, fans, and followers sign up to follow updates from the Executive Branch. The reporter also points readers to TechCrunch's analysis, which notes the presence of unpresidential ads in close proximity to White House content, and an even tougher review on VentureBeat called "Meet White House 2.0, same as White House 1.0 (but on Twitter!)" that criticizes the lack of substantive content on the President's sites. VentureBeat did acknowledge some improvements, since -- according to their analysis -- "the White House blog originally contained little more than repackaged press releases, but it has become chatty and conversational." However, the White House web team loses points because "the site for learning about how the $787 billion stimulus package gets spent lacked any real data."

Unfortunately, the USA Today piece didn't provide the historical context of how these sites were used in relation to to understand some significant differences, as Obama's digital rhetoric moves from campaigning to governance.

The blog post that describes these initiatives does little to explain the rationale for the launch or justify the choice of those particular services as sites for public discourse. The White House MySpace page prominently features YouTube videos without the conspicuous link to privacy info that was added to the videos on the White House blog, after Christopher Soghoian pointed out the problems with allowing stealthy tracking and data mining cookies on the subsequent web browsing of those who click on such content. The White House Facebook profile
allows comments, some of which take issue with Obama administration policies, on content reposted from the main White House blog. Posting takes place immediately without moderation, although there is a "report" link for inappropriate or abusive comments. Of particular interest, given long silences in the once active Twitter feed of candidate Barack Obama after the end of the campaign trail, is The White House Twitter feed. Their use of the commercial URL-shortening site might also raise concerns for those who prefer to see more sustainable public web resources being used.

However, as the response to my recent talk at Harvard indicated, many digital rights advocates are pleased to see citizen comments included in the government's online discourse, even if these conversations take place on third-party commercial social network sites without the public domain copyright policies, privacy protections, open content standards, and archival permanence generally associated with government web domains.

Thanks to Amar Ashar of the Berkman Center for the link.

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