Academic journal article Alexandria

Social Media Use by the US Federal Government at the End of the 2012 Presidential Term

Academic journal article Alexandria

Social Media Use by the US Federal Government at the End of the 2012 Presidential Term

Article excerpt


The United States is increasing its adoption of social media as part of its official communication on both the federal (Hansell, 2009) and local levels (Steher and Preston, 2012). However, the content of social media in the dot gov domain or through third-party social media providers is not considered official government information, and therefore not subject to legal requirements for collection, retention, preservation and access as is official information published by the US government. Because it is not preserved, this content is considered at risk of disappearing and not being available to the public. This could be a loss to future researchers who may be interested in seeing how the government interacted (or failed to interact) with its citizens through then emergent information and communications technologies. To preserve this content, a group of organizations (the Library of Congress, the Internet Archive, University of North Texas, California Digital Library and the Government Printing Office) included social media in a larger project to document the web presence of the US federal government in the months preceding the 2012 presidential election. This larger project of preservation of web content is known as the End of Term Harvest (EOT), and this particular project focuses on the web archive of social media content.

In this project, we collected and studied 1,513 social media URLs from official government websites, and of those 1,364 unique URLs were included in the EOT archive. Using this social media archive, this study aims to show how the US federal government incorporates social media within its official web-based communications and how it uses social media. We pose the following research questions:

RQ1: Who uses social media in the US government?

RQ2: What social media platforms does the US government use?

RQ3: What observations can be made of the content available from the US government via social media platforms?

We will describe the use of social media by the US government first, and some challenges associated with its use. Second, we will describe the EOT Harvest project and our study methodology. Lastly, we will present our findings regarding the use of social media by the US federal government.


Social media and the US government

Social media are web-based platforms that employ Web 2.0, which is a series of design patterns and approaches to structuring web-based systems that capitalize on the networked information environment, enabling the web to better support the use, production, and circulation of information in a peerto-peer networked arrangement (Cocciolo, 2010; Benkler, 2006). These platforms rely on individual production and user-generated content, and are designed to support participation and individuation though such mechanisms as profile pages, which often state explicit likes, interests, and friendships (O'Reilly, 2005; Cormode and Krishnamurthy, 2008). The largest and most visible examples of social media are Facebook and Twitter, whose content is almost entirely dependent on the activity and engagement of users.

The use of social media in the US government is decentralized and managed by each agency or department individually. From a policy perspective, the use of social media draws from the 2009 Transparency Memorandum issued by President Obama in his first weeks in office (Obama, 2009). The Transparency Memorandum recognized the importance of openness in government as a way to strengthen democracy and calls for government to be transparent, participatory, and collaborative; these principles were formalized in the Open Government Directive issued in late 2009 (Open Government Directive, 2009). While the policies that direct open government come from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that operates within the White House, implementation guidance is provided by the General Services Administration (GSA), an independent agency that supports the operational aspects of the federal government. …

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