Friending the Government: Why U.S. Government Social Media Websites Do Not Function As Public Spheres and What Can Be Done to Promote Civic Participation




LaPaze, Rebecca E.

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The promise of social media tools to facilitate virtual public spheres coupled with the recent push in the federal government for agencies to use the Internet to engage with the American public and create civic participation calls for a review of the discourse appearing on these sites. As such, an analysis of selected agencies’ use of social media (specifically blogs and Facebook) shows that it is not yet being used to facilitate dialogue between the agencies and the constituents they serve due to the language, structure, and content of the communications. While some have made more progress than others in this regard, the communication on the sites is largely one-way and top-down. Furthermore, the citizens’ participation on the sites more closely represents a mass rather than a desired public. If agencies’ social media sites are to truly serve as public spheres, then agencies must adopt techniques and behaviors that demonstrate they value civic participation. Until this happens, users of these sites must understand that because an agency has adopted new technology it does necessarily mean that it has adopted the spirit of participation that embodies Web 2.0 principles and they should not expect the sites to always function as a collaborative space.



Web 2.0, Social media and government, Public sphere, Digital rhetoric