The Town That Runs on Twitter ; for Spanish Community, Social Network Is Main Way to Communicate

By Scott, Mark | International New York Times, June 9, 2016 | Go to article overview

The Town That Runs on Twitter ; for Spanish Community, Social Network Is Main Way to Communicate


Scott, Mark, International New York Times


Jun, on the outskirts of Granada and with a population of 3,500, has turned to the social network to help the town provide many public services.

When Jose Antonio Rodriguez Salas's daughter, Martina, was born in April, he -- like many proud new parents -- turned to social media to share the news.

But Mr. Rodriguez Salas, the mayor of Jun, a small town nestled in the foothills outside Granada in southern Spain, did not post a message through his own Twitter account. Instead, he wrote a short message from @martinajun, a Twitter account he had created for his newborn, saying, "I've just been born."

Acabo de nacer a las 3.55 con 3 kilos y 110 gramos

-- Martina RM (@martinajun) April 4, 2016

To Mr. Rodriguez Salas's more than 400,000 followers on the social network, his actions came as no surprise. That is because the Spanish politician has spent much of the last five years turning Jun (pronounced hoon), whose population barely tops 3,500, into one of the most active users of Twitter anywhere in the world.

For the town's residents, more than half of whom have Twitter accounts, their main way to communicate with local government officials is now the social network. Need to see the local doctor? Send a quick Twitter message to book an appointment. See something suspicious? Let Jun's policeman know with a tweet.

People in Jun can still use traditional methods, like completing forms at the town hall, to obtain public services. But Mr. Rodriguez Salas said that by running most of Jun's communications through Twitter, he not only has shaved on average 13 percent, or around $380,000, from the local budget each year since 2011, but he also has created a digital democracy where residents interact online almost daily with town officials.

"Everyone can speak to everyone else, whenever they want," said Mr. Rodriguez Salas in his office surrounded by Twitter paraphernalia. "We are on Twitter because that's where the people are."

While politicians like President Obama and Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, regularly send messages on Twitter to their millions of followers, Jun's use of the social network is something different.

By incorporating Twitter into every aspect of daily life -- even the local school's lunch menu is sent out through social media -- this Spanish town has become a test bed for how cities may eventually use social networks to offer public services.

"Jun is one of a group of islands of innovation in the public sector," said Arthur Mickoleit, a researcher who until recently was a digital government adviser at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. "They're tapping into social media to improve public services."

Jun's embrace of Twitter did not happen overnight.

Mr. Rodriguez Salas, a career politician, was elected Jun's mayor in 2005 -- the year before Twitter was founded -- after serving as deputy mayor. In 2011, he asked all town officials -- from his deputy to the street sweeper -- to open accounts on Twitter and send messages about their daily activities. The goal, he said, was to create greater accountability and transparency over how Jun was run. Mr. Rodriguez Salas added that he chose Twitter over Facebook because Twitter allowed quicker interactions.

Jun's officials also started asking residents to verify their Twitter accounts at the town hall -- a relatively simple process of checking people's government IDs with their online profiles to ensure their concerns were answered online.

Officials began with basic services like public maintenance, letting people tweet when they saw a broken streetlight or a road that needed cleaning. …

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