Should Governments Use Facebook For Government Service?
Q: Here's a simple question, Robert. Should governments use Facebook to provide customer service to citizens?
Robert: You may feel it's a simple question, but the answer is definitely NOT simple. But, still, I'll offer you an "on balance, all other things being equal" answer, my position is that government should not be using Facebook for this purpose. In fact, not at all.
Q: I'm surprised, considering more and more agencies are using it? What underlies your opinion?
Robert: There are a lot of reasons, and each, in and of itself should be enough to send up warning flags to governments, but they haven't noticed yet. Here's a quick list:
- privacy and data security
- reliance on a third party with no contract or obligations from that third party
- ceding control of citizen communication to a company that can "cancel your account" for no reason, or any reason
- Having your content used as a means to convey ads, some of which are questionable or grey line illegal without having any control at all, not to mention using government resources to add to the revenue of a private corporation (Facebook).
- Issues about censorship, since government has different obligations, particularly in the USA due to Freedom of Expression/Speech, which makes it questionable as to whether government can remove content it deems inappropriate.
- Diversion of human resources that can take away from using other, more traditional means of communicating with citizens for the purposes of customer service.
- The need to move most interactions between citizen and government to email, phone, etc, anyway, so that social media contact actually adds steps.
Is that a good enough start for you?
Q: Yikes. But most of those are theoretical, right? I mean, what could happen and not what is happening?
Robert: No. ALL of these things have happened, or ARE current issues. Facebook information has been hacked, there have been early law suits filed about Facebook censorship issues, there's tons of belly fat ads on government pages, some governments HAVE had their Facebook accounts cancelled or suspended because their names weren't compliant with new Facebook rules...and on and on.
Q: Well, you seem pretty unwavering. Do you see any situations where Facebook can be useful for government?
Robert: Certainly. First, marketing. Second, disseminating information. Those are good things, and use broadcast/ one way communication, so there's little incremental cost. In particular, there's hardly any reasons (apart from those in the list above) to not use Facebook, or Twitter, for that matter, to inform about traffic, construction, weather, and stuff that can benefit from almost real time transmission and reception. Even with those, though, I'd be concerned about RELYING on Facebook. You still have to do all the other stuff to communicate.
And, to talk about the marketing, I can see how and why National Parks, or local government, for example, might want to use Facebook to market the benefits of its tourism features.
Then again, I still see websites as the major ways to do this kind of marketing, because they are easily found in search engines for those interested. If I want to see the tourist attractions in New York, for example, I'll find the city page, and find what I want pretty darn fast. Facebook? A frill.
Q: Thanks. I guess we should talk about some of those things you have on your list of reasons government should not be on Facebook. Next time?