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Social media

Joseph E. Ryan



2009: The Year of the

Social Medial Explosion

In 2009 there was an explosion in the use of social media. Social media, such as Twitter and Facebook set the tone for communications both globally and locally. Social media are communication services on the Internet that enable people to meet electronically, post words and images, and exchange views and information.

MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are four of the major social media that have arisen in the past six years.

MySpace was launched in 2003, and has 73 million participants in the United States. It enables its members to establish groups that can be created by anybody. MySpace enables people to post bulletin board statements and to launch chain messages.

Facebook was founded in 2004. It has 250 million users, 60 million of whom are in the United States. Facebook is useful to

Social Media Dos and Don’ts
for Governments

• Do learn to understand and use social media. It is here to stay. If you don’t use social media to get your message out, the danger is that your opponents will, either now or in the very near future.

• Do expect social media to become recognized means for posting legal notices and serving documents during the next decade.

• Do use media releases to explain to young people that they should still call 911 for emergencies. Facebook is not the best way to contact your local emergency services.

• Do use Facebook. It is a great way to get your message out to large audiences. Keep in mind that more younger people than older people use Facebook. To reach older people, you will still need to use more traditional media, such as the print version of newspapers, while the print media are still with us.

• Don’t release confidential information or compromise security when you use the social media. Once it’s been released, sensitive information cannot be yanked back, because the whole world is watching.

• Don’t write long messages for Twitter. This is not the medium for posting complicated policies. Please think before you post.

• Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to become part of your opposition’s YouTube video. At all public events, be aware that people may be present with video cameras. You also have the option of posting your own YouTube videos that would present you and your policies in a more favorable light.

• Even though Facebook is not a great way to contact local emergency services, you should expect your local police to be using Facebook increasingly as a means for conducting investigations.

• If you establish a social media presence, please use it only for legal and ethical purposes. If you have any doubts about issuing something, don’t do it. Remember the surgeon’s motto, “When in doubt, cut it out.”

• Expect laws, ethics, and practices about public information to evolve as governments and candidates make increasing use of social media

municipalities and local organizations, because it can create networks organized by city. Users can create up to 200 groups according to their interests or expertise. Municipal lawyers should be aware that Australian courts have allowed legal notices to be served on Facebook, and New Zealand allows legal papers to be served on this medium, too.

Twitter was founded in 2006. By the end of 2009, Twitter projects that it will have 25 million users. Twitter enables people to post messages of 140 characters. The messages are known as Tweets. A clear sign of Twitter’s success is that Conan O’Brien has a regular skit that spoofs it on The Tonight Show.

YouTube was founded in 2005. This medium is a website that enables users to upload and share videos. It has more than 100 million video views per day. Many local governing bodies have discovered that their worst moments are now on YouTube. As of this writing, YouTube has more than 26,000 videos from city council meetings around the world.

There are some social media that present real problems. For example, in July 2009, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced his intention to sue a social medium called Tagged for its allegedly fraudulent activity and identity theft.

Tagged approaches people through their e-mail systems, sometimes by claiming to offer photos from someone in the targeted person’s e-mail address book. I would like to offer two rules for dealing with Tagged. Rule #1: Do not get involved with Tagged. Rule #2: Always remember Rule #1.

A review of global and local news stories from 2009 demonstrates that the social media are having a huge impact.

After Iran held dubious presidential elections, oppositionists evaded government censors by using Twitter and Facebook to post videos and news. These messages were viewed by millions of people around the world. The on-line social media were so crucial to getting stories out of Iran that the U.S. State Department asked them to postpone routine maintenance that would have shut transmissions down.

New Jersey’s 2009 gubernatorial candidates sent supporters campaign writings that they could post to Facebook or Twitter, thereby increasing their distribution free of charge.

After Alaska Governor Sarah Palin announced her resignation, journalists considered it newsworthy that she did not post anything on Facebook for several days for her 800,000 registered on-line supporters. Later, Palin used Facebook to promote her views on President Obama’s healthcare proposals.

The Morris County government joined Facebook in August 2009. Morris County also offers TV programs through YouTube, issues announcements through Twitter, and shares public documents through Scribd, a document-sharing website.

The secret identity of Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency’s director was revealed, apparently unintentionally, when his wife posted several photographs of him on Facebook.

In May 2009, Fair Lawn police used Facebook to bust an after-prom party that was scheduled to include illegal drugs and alcohol. In order to do this, the police created fake identities to infiltrate communications among Fair Lawn’s youth.

Many of today’s youth have become overly dependent on Facebook for communications. For example, in September 2009, two girls lost in a stormwater drain in Adelaide, Australia, updated their Facebook status instead of dialing 000, Australia’s equivalent of 911. Although they had cell phones with them, the girls did not even think of telephoning the Metropolitan Fire Department or emergency services. They were not rescued for several hours until a fellow student called the authorities after he noticed the girls’ announcement on Facebook.

This article was originally published in New Jersey Municipalities magazine. Vol. 86, No. 9, December 2009




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