Use of social media is becoming a more common and important aspect of people’s lives, and the political sphere is no exception. More than ever, social media is proving to be a useful platform for helping citizens to engage with their elected officials and government agencies. Here are 7 ways that citizens can use social media to improve how government works for them.
1. Calling for transparency
According to a recent Pew Internet study, 48 percent of internet users have looked for information about a public policy on a government website, 46 percent have looked up what public services are available, and 35 percent have researched government statistics or documents. With more and more elected officials and government agencies using Facebook and Twitter, social media is well-positioned to be a quick, effective way for citizens to interact with government officials and agencies. Social media also has the potential to make interactions between the citizens and government more efficient and satisfying.
2. Pushing grassroots ideas to the top
Before, grassroots movements would often languish in obscurity, but social media has the power to quickly move ideas to the forefront of public discourse. Community- based sites like Reddit.com are proving to be effective at raising awareness about controversial issues like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which some see as threatening free speech and the open nature of the internet. In addition to calling for boycotts of supporters of the act, others have called for user “blackouts” on popular social media sites like Facebook and Google Plus as a protest of the legislastion.
3. “All politics is local”
While social media can influence national politics, citizens at the state or local level can also use social media to improve public life. By taking advantage of the unique relationships that exist at the community level, traditional networks like local businesses and community organizations can now be transferred to the Twittersphere. Social media can also be used to improve the quality and speed of interaction with government when addressing hyper-local issues like crime or sanitation.
4. Saving time and money
With many local governments facing serious budget deficits, social media can save the public some time, and the government some money. City and state Facebook pages or Twitter accounts enable the citizen and government to interact more quickly and directly than ever before. Time and resources can be saved on less immediate and interactive mediums like newsletters, press releases, or telephone calls.
5. Drawing attention to unequal or unacceptable city services
The power of social media can push individual voices to the front of the discussion quickly. Calling for improved government services on an interactive, public medium like Facebook or Twitter can enable individual citizens to call for action on issues of concern to the public, often at the neighborhood level.
6. Crisis management/Disaster relief
In the event of emergencies, social media has the potential to not only improve government, but to act as sources of crucial information. A study by the American Red Cross revealed that the public is likely to use social media networks as sources of information during times of crisis, and the use of social media during the recent hurricanes in Alabama illustrated how important citizen use of social media can be in an emergency. With the right coordination, these networks could act as a vital supplement to government disaster relief efforts.
7. Grassroots organizing
Nothing is more political than citizens taking to the streets (and cyberspace) to petition the government for change. The recent Occupy protest movement relies heavily on the use of social media, and the reach that it provides has made the movement a global phenomenon.
By George Knowles