In my last blog, I wrote about the potential of social media in promoting good governance, specifically participatory governance. The example I talked about – participatory processes used in President Obama’s “Race to the Top” - was in the context of a mature democracy, with enabling institutions, infrastructure and an engaged civil society, all of which contributed to the success of “Race to the Top”. However, even in an environment where these elements are not present, social media can still contribute to improved governance, although in a different and perhaps more limited way. Despite the lack of strong institutions, rampant poverty, limited infrastructure, and the ever-present threat of censorship, social media (often fuelled by mobile technology) has played a role in countries such as Bangladesh and Iran.
Social media is far harder to control and collectively far more honest than the traditional media outlets (newspaper and TV). As a result it can facilitate openness and transparency, perhaps even more so than the traditional mainstream outlets. In the examples I refer to above, social media not only facilitated but perhaps even imposed good governance by ensuring transparency and accountability, at least for the specific cases mentioned.
Social media should be viewed by the governments as a tool for effective governance, transparency and accountability. It is also a good tool for governments to communicate effectively with their citizens. There are already some encouraging examples in this area. Maine’s social media portal monitors public servants and help citizens to hold them accountable. Social media can also help civil society to inform other citizens and engage with the Government. China’s Green Dam protest has forced one-way messages to become dialogues around important social issues. It is clear that the governments will serve themselves and their citizens better if they do not take an adversarial stand against social media, and instead proactively use social media for good governance. In order to do so, governments have to be able to harvest and use social media data effectively. For social media to facilitate good governance a fundamental prerequisite is high quality data in the social media space.
Unfortunately the four characteristics of social media - chaotic, huge, free, and collectively good but individually unreliable - also create issues with quality and thus make the use of social media data for good governance, difficult. I will discuss these social media characteristics and related quality issues in the next blog.
This is the first blog of a three-part blog series on Social Media for Good Governance (Social Media for Good Governance: The Quality Challenge-II, Social Media for Good Governance: The Quality Measurement Challenge - III)
Photo Credit: Flickr user έŁέ¢τяøиί¢ έγέ