Government Agencies Should Reconsider Using Facebook And Twitter

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor.

Twitter LogoThe increasing trend of Facebook and Twitter to censor speech based often on political ideology gives government agencies cause to reconsider using these providers for disseminating official information and publications. Moreover, privacy issues inherent with these social media companies could do harm to vulnerable individuals who simply request information from their government.

In articles featured on this website, we described content based censorship on Twitter & Facebook (Suspension of Conservative James O’Keefe, filtering negative comments about President Obama, outright banning Milo Yiannopoulos, and allegations of associates of Facebook suppressing conservative views{via Gizmodo}and numerous others.)

Facebook LogoThe increasing regularity of bias and removal of content presents a concerning environment where political views of these companies bring into question their reliability and objectivity for which government and government agencies provide information.

Perhaps it is time to shift away and take back control of the messaging.

While the move toward open communication and approachability of government serves a legitimate and commendable purpose, it is now coming with a potential price: the degradation of neutral messaging into one where at times arbitrary decisions dictate what is permitted for transmissions and dissemination.

The use of corporate owned social media serves another purpose attractive to government–cost savings.

When government agencies and officials use social media services, there is markedly less need to construct and maintain websites or servers for information distribution. Where several agencies often use systems that are incompatible with each other, social media addresses this problem by providing a common interface.

Social media is showing itself to be less neutral. Therein lies the risk that perhaps government agencies as a whole or individual officials will run afoul of a social medium’s content expectations and these entities will effectively suffer filtering or worse blackouts. Information exchange then abruptly halts.

Another disadvantage the use of social media, simply to use receive government information, is privacy.

When a user receives information by social media, it has come to be that the very act of reading messages, regardless if the user has a Facebook page or Twitter account, provides information that may be sold or used in such a way that it might not be in the best interests of the reader.

The simple act of reading tweets or visiting social media pages affiliated with government agencies is that such a process generates information to infer patterns of the user. An example might be where a citizen uses social media to access government information about domestic violence and then a profile of this user links to advertisements or sponsored content regarding violence against women. It is possible in that situation that an aggressive husband might discover his wife is reaching out for help and consequently she is attacked in retaliation. Or, that a person receiving Tweets from departments of fishing and wildlife might be a revenue source for the social medium from advertisers of hunting gear. The simple click of a link, through a social media interface, is often enough to establish patterns and databases on individuals who are simply requesting information.

To mitigate these risks, agencies need only look toward the past for answers for internet messaging. Three readily available systems provide safer alternatives to social media:

Owned Websites

As simple as it sounds, websites still offer an excellent gateway for governmental communications. It is not at all necessary to rely on Facebook for such a presence. Yet, this is often unfortunately the most expensive and time consuming method to maintain, especially with regard to security. Yet, mitigating measures such as templating, scalability and common administration can reduce costs.

Web Feeds

Adjunct to web sites, feeds provide a form of syndication for news, announcements or other information such as articles via simple standard process where synopses of articles are pulled by a user having an aggregator. The advantage of such feeds are that an end user controls the information they are to receive, through various settings on their browser. Moreover, unlike below, an advantage is that a user need not provide an email address to receive this information. Two primers for this protocol may be found HERE, and HERE.

List servers

List servers provide a medium of information distribution where a user/citizen can subscribe to a government hosted mail server and receive in their email mailbox announcements, news and other information the user requests. For more information, click HERE.

Each of these technologies is presently available and can be used at any time, mitigating the temptation to use social media. List servers in fact predate the popularity of the World Wide Web.

It is certainly something to consider, especially if we arrive at a point where lackluster government information technology bureaucrats wither in their duty to serve the public in-house; relegating the citizenry to a future where only a few social media companies control the information.

By Darren Smith

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

31 thoughts on “Government Agencies Should Reconsider Using Facebook And Twitter”

  1. Brooklin Bridge says:
    “Fast forward one hundred years: Why buy a computer for many hundreds and often thousands of dollars in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s when you have nothing really useful to run on it?”

    You’re kidding, right?

    Before the personal computer, there were mainframe computers dating back to the Fifties, without which mainframes we wouldn’t ever have been able to go to the moon. Almost from this inception, software engineers began developing mainframe applications to serve hundreds of vertical markets in the mainstream economy. The inventory and accounting markets were huge in software development, as was the government, universities, insurance, airline, engineering firms, the legal industry, and many many more. Then came the mini computer, thanks to integrated circuitry, and whatever software was running on mainframe computers was now configured to run on mini computers, creating an expansion of an industry unprecedented in economic history, thanks to the affordability of mini computers. Where vertical market software was limited with mainframes because of price, not so with mini computers. And when the personal computer finally came out in the late Seventies, thanks to LSI (large-scale integrated circuitry), such as the Intel 8008, the first CPU on a chip, followed by the 8080, software that had been developed for mainframes & mini-computers was now running on personal computers, paving the road for not just every mom-and-pop business to own a personal computer, but eventually every individual, too, even at several thousand dollars a copy early on. Today, even the most Spartan entry-level PC, not mentioning many smartphones, is many times more powerful than any mainframe of the sixties.

    So no, the PC was very useful at its inception, otherwise no one would have paid as much as $5,000 a copy to use it as a paperweight.

    1. I do not certain this is authentic. It doesn’t appear to be directly from the wikileaks so I want to make a warning to be aware. I don’t want to mislead people.

      On the wikileaks site itself you can see direct manipulation of the “press” and I’m sick of it. Manipulation is the govt.’s stock and trade.

      1. Jill – Wikileaks has been exposing the close ties between the Clinton campaign and the press. Other have just been copying it.

  2. It is illegal to show your rear end in public. But people show all sorts of private stuff which can result in economic loss, on uttBaybook.

  3. There are two interesting aspects of a person “going dark”:

    To avoid such scrutiny and privacy violations by both government and large corporations a person who has had enough simply goes back to the world of the 1980’s and buys items with cash and reads magazines and books. Trust me, a greatly enjoy the internet but certainly not as much as I did in the mid 1990’s before privacy was something to be extracted and users actually cared and spammers and lamers were booted off the internet. At that time, commercial advertising was prohibited (though I cannot remember the date this happened). By going dark, it is not as easy to find stuff out about an individual and since spies will become so accustomed to click-n-find or querying of databases, traditional methods required of investigation simply will not be worth it and they can go peddle from or bother someone else.

    The second shows a dark side to doing so: It makes a person appear more suspicious to a nefarious government. It is the old “they must have something to hide” if they go dark. An analog to this can be found in the Republic of Ireland.

    Ireland requires a license fee to be paid for each television within a person’s home. The fee is €160.00 per annum. If a person at known residence does not pay the television license the government could send an inspector to verify the absence of a television. Yes, there are inspectors! If an unlicensed television is discovered fines are levied and repeat offences sometimes result in jail time. Presently accessing media through the internet is not per se requiring a television license, it is a source of revenue that eventually the politicians crave.

    Perhaps this is comparing Apples to Oranges but it is what it is.

  4. Once users really understand the privacy risks of social media, which may take several years, users will simply stop participating. The good news is that it may be a rebirth for paper books, paper magazines and paper newspapers.

    The bottom line is it’s just plain “creepy” for police, bureaucrats or private companies to know the personal business of every citizen (without a probable cause warrant) – some things are just none of their damn business!

    1. If only you were right! Unfortunately, the vast (and I mean vast) majority of people prefer convenience to constitutional rights they have come to take for granted. Smart Phones are an excellent case in point and they are not going away nor will the exclusiverights of one’s “data” be given back to the user.

      1) They (Smart Phones) enforce and encourage the rent extraction model that is more and more the only way one can access software.

      2) They raise huge privacy issues since the user does not actually own the instance of software one is running and must grant rights to his or her data as part of the contract for using the software..

      These issues have been buried by all manner of promises and even some admirable efforts by companies such as Apple to really protect the user but that and similar efforts will probably prove shorter lived than the leakers, such as Edward Snowden, that inspired them by scareing away customers (temporarily only). And in any event, the issue of software and data ownership – particularly with Smart Phones remains silently but heavily slanted toward the providers. And yet the public simply can’t get enough of them, no matter how much one tells them of the hidden costs, which frankly, is sort of understandable given how useful they are. What people don’t realize, is that there is no fundamental reason these companies couldn’t have continued with the old model such as Windows where the user had legal ownership of the instance of the OS as well as most or all of the software he or she ran on it and therefore of any data thus generated. The rent extraction model is going to be more and more pervasive in almost everything we do and consume, from renting auto driven cars, rather than owning them, to renting the apparatus that makes air breathable and water potable.

      1. I purchased POS and Accounting software for one of my businesses and it cost many thousand dollars. My company owned the software and the data. I read the user agreement completely because I did not want any intrusion or information sharing and I would not have purchased it if there was any concern. It turned out to be an excellent and seamless platform and it saved me so much money in terms of time and headaches I would have been happy paying twice for it, especially the payroll service which was a steal comparing to managing payrolls myself.

        See, there is a cost for software–good software. In my view when we went to free software–the best example being when Microsoft gave away Internet Explorer for free–it lead to much of this insanity with privacy for sale and spying become popular.

        Overall I believe Microsoft made a huge strategic blunder when it gave away Internet Explorer. At the time, Netscape’s web browser cost about $25.00. But Microsoft’s management considered Netscape to be not just a competitor but a threat due to the money the browser brought them. To route Netscape they gave Internet Explorer away for free to starve the company of its primary revenue source. This accomplished the goal Microsoft wanted but it was unwise.

        When IE 2.0 was released (IE’s first release) it was markedly inferior to Netscape 2.0. Arguably when IE 4.0 arrived it was at parity with Netscape and later versions were better. Microsoft also sought to wipe out the e-Mail client industry by bundling an free e-Mail client together. This ended some fine mail clients such as Eudora which was a much better platform than what Microsoft Offered.

        Now that Microsoft’s scorched earth policy succeeded in driving away competition, the strategic blunder began to germinate.

        Now, the end user EXPECTED software to be free. The shareware model offered some potential revenue where a customer might be enticed into buying a product after obtaining a strip-down version of the main software. Unfortunately for everyone selling software the expectation of free internet software grew into other software industries and it became increasingly difficult for small software companies or small applications to make money the traditional way.

        Eventually Microsoft and others saw the change coming and then went to the software as a service model where a yearly fee was expected but I suspect this will wane to a degree as the user continues to demand free stuff. We should never have gone down that road as we did in the 1990’s.

        Now, in many cases the only revenue source for a software company is the user’s information to resell to others. The problem with this is that such a model requires millions of users because the value of this information is small per person. It also tends to concentrate the number of suppliers of these services because there is no money to be made by small software companies under this business model, whereas if software had a price niche markets can develop.

        There was a time believe it or not when a software company often consisted of less than ten individuals. This included both games and utilities, such as Eudora’s parent, Epic Mega Games, Trumpet Software (maker of Trumpet software which made Trumpet WinSock the most popular program in the world to connect windows 3.X via a TCP/IP stack to the internet. Now, it’s a completely different ballgame. In fact, if Trumpet had grown without the share-ware model, which people simply just used the basic one, they would have done extremely well. But, it simply died. (For the record, I was actually one of the few who liked Trumpet Winsock so well I purchased a seat for it.)

        A trivia question for you Internet old-timers: Remember the shareware website Tucows? What was the acronym for this site?….

        The Ultimate Collection of Winsock Software.

        1. A well thought out comment. I agree with the idea that you get what you pay for, but I differ in the way the computer industry, particularly to the public, unfolded.

          Personally, I find monopoly capitalism, or the greed is good ideology in general, to be ultimately self defeating just as empire building always is, but I am forced to admit that such monopolies can have temporary benefits. In the 80’s and 90’s, computers and software in particular had many of the same problems that telephone technology had a century earlier. Why buy a telephone when there is no one you can call with it since no one else has a phone?

          Fast forward one hundred years: Why buy a computer for many hundreds and often thousands of dollars in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s when you have nothing really useful to run on it? Microsoft and Macintosh/Apple took different approaches to this issue, but it is fair to say that by the mid 1990’s, Microsoft had “won”, at least for a time, and they did so 1) by cutting costs the way only a monopoly can (but, and this is an important but – doesn’t have to), and 2) by opening up their operating system to the public at large who subsequently became the worlds first generation of “popular” developers (i.e., not the business world of Unix or mini computers/main frames that ran high cost per seat in-house operating systems). Much of that success came from open source software, freeware, and the initially free software model that got thousands of companies from the garage to the IPO. Literally thousands of packages of varying quality but which were always free or cheap were developed that fit small business or home users ‘niche’ needs that simply could not have been done by large development companies that require large initial investments.

          Ultimately – in my view – the success of open source and many freeware programs established the base upon which the Internet (which has been around since the late 70’s) could take off with the graphical capabilities of the World Wide Web (which fittingly was not developed as a “for profit” inter-machine communication model).

          Without this free or exceptionally cheap software, the industry would never have reached critical mass where such things as online banking, or government tax submission, or any of hundreds of finance and accounting programs or “big data” and all the associated industries, could have really taken off. Even the POS and accounting program you mention, would probably have been prohibitive unless the company you refer to was mid sized and could afford around 25 grand just for a Unix (of some flavor) seat.

          Microsoft has made many mistakes, though different ones depending on one’s point of view, and I agree that IE being offered for free and particularly as the “default” browser was a misuse of power, but from a pure business perspective, Microsoft managed it’s monopoly over the home computer into the 21st century exceedingly well, ultimately providing the super structure upon which our 1984 dystopia depends to truly flower and flourish in until it stops flowering and flourishing and collapses along with the rest of us. Of course Microsoft has since been by-passed as always happens in a king of the hill environment, but that said, it is hardly responsible for all the ills that have occurred since it popularized computers and software. It even resisted the Internet as a rent extraction platform until around 2003 when it realized it was either sink or swim.

          1. You do offer an aspect I did not touch upon. You are certainly correct that the cost of software and computers was driven in part by efficiencies available only to monopolies, added to of course the availability of a cheaper alternative in the form of open source.

            Another aspect of the home computer industry I find interesting is how its infancy shares many aspects of the automobile industry in the early 1900’s.

            In the heyday of personal computer (then called microcomputers) diversity in the early to mid 1980’s, many different processors, operating systems, and hardware strived for either niches or to grab major market share.

            We can look to examples as the IBM Clone (which was truly at its infancy) the Apple ][ , 6502 based such as the Atari 8 bit models, Commodore 64, z-80 based such as the TRS 80, TI based as the TI-99a, and others: PET; Kaypro; Heath Kit; Amiga; etc.

            In the end, only few emerged to prominence: the Apple platforms and IBM/Windows x86 based platforms. Now, the variation began with the fledgling hand held devices.

            This mirrors the auto industry of one hundred years ago where then some estimates were that as much as a hundred different automakers existed, many having some pleasingly variant and interesting design approaches: The Stanley Steamer; American Underslung; and Detroit Electric. In the end, three or four dominated the industry for the next 50 years.

            The standardization did drive down costs and raised predictability and consistency yet if one player dominated this market as in others the innovation and impetus to do better stagnates. But then again, having competition does drive the need to churn over sales to the latest and greatest version of a widget and the smart phone market is one worst offenders I can think of. Still, I am quite satisfied with my 1982 vintage TrimLine telephone that sits atop my office desk. Still a bit heavy, and having an actual bell for a ringer, it is far more comforting than the annoyances of a cheap speaker warbling that someone is calling. I actually would have one with a rotary dial for a bit of nostalgia, but it makes for some difficulty in using automated systems that require DTMF tones.

            1. Yes indeed, even the web had that “wild west” quality to it for over a decade (1994/5-2005 – apporx.) though everyone could see the writing on the wall.

              I wanted to make my point about cost, and therefore skimped on at least one of the things I think Microsoft did right which was actually a very costly business decision, but one I suspect Bill Gates made quite deliberately. I’m speaking of backwards compatibility which was carried through from at least 16 bit versions of Windows (I think they stopped at 16 bit, 8 bits was too difficult to drag along the compatibility trail) right on up to 64 bit Win NT- Win 7 and on to Windows 10 (as far as I know). I have an old program that was made for 16 bit Windows which still works today. This was particularly difficult when Gates hired Ben Cutler away from Digital to design Windows NT. ( Like HAL and IBM, WNT and VMS). But Gates persisted (or kept Cutler at it) and after several iterations, or releases, of WNT, it finally became the first (comparatively) stable platform Microsoft had come up with, yet it also ran just about every program ever written for Windows which was a huge feat and which saved people untold amounts of aggravation and money.. Gates loved to crush competition, but he also had a real soft spot for his audience (customer base).

              Another rather unusual characteristic of Microsoft was the exceptional leaps of quality successive product releases would take. I remember using the first versions of their C++ compiler thinking this was pure crap only to find it amazingly robust several releases later when it was integrated into their IDE, Microsoft Visual Studio 5.0. The same thing happened to their IDE. It started out clunky and crusty, and ended up a first class developer’s environment that subsequently went on to become Microsoft Visual Studio.

              The UNIX crowd (of which I was once a member) always turned their nose up at the Microsoft code base, but I think a large part of that was just unwarranted jealous snobbism.

              Your automobile analogy is good because the early manufacturers could, like Gates, take liberties – just because they thought it the right thing to do – that today’s business mentality would utterly recoil at. Heavens, think of our responsibility to the shareholders!!!.

  5. If Hillary Clinton wins the White House, she will embrace Facebook and Twitter as arms of the State Run Media. She already has most of the media acting as propaganda for her, like this is North Korea.

    If anyone else wins, it’s going to be Left Run Media trying to overthrow the government through propaganda until it gets the Left in the White House.

    So banana republics and dictators rise…

  6. A hippocrite is a Libertarian who speaks out for free speech and yet censors his own blog. Down here where I live in Louisiana we call em hippocriters.

  7. But let’s say a certain political party has a lock on the media. How might that political party feel if friendly executives at various internet sites have access to the personal information of the nation at large. That could be very helpful to your campaign.

    Only the executives of social organizations that are not in the pocket of that party would be dangerous – – – such as Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Hmmm. I wonder how come Assange had false sexual allegations used against him, and is in the Ecuadorean Embassy for protection???

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  8. The more you post about yourself, the more information about you is recorded in digital archives forever. If you only read, then a record of what you read is archived forever. Maybe that’s a good reason to read a wide array of perspectives so that it’s more difficult to pigeon hole your view points. At least, one should go to the sites of a wide array of perspectives, whether or not you actually read all of them.

    1. So we should all quadruple our bandwidth use and waste three fourths of our time just to confuse the establishment? You’re kidding, right?

      Why not just outlaw snooping, and restore our privacy, which is already guaranteed by the Constitution?

    2. You raise an interesting though depressing point. Humans are not well equipped to deal as opponents with computers. If the human wants privacy, and the computer wants to break that, the computer has many advantages:

      The most important is persistence. The computer (and deep pockets of government) can take as long as it wants – forever – t o look for weaknesses in any given user’s system. For the average user, this is mere seconds, but even for the most sophisticated, there is always a weakness if one is willing to persist in searching for it and ready to exploit it the moment it occurs and is found.

      Then speed. Again, it’s non intuitive. Invisible things can happen so quickly, one has no idea that their data was breached and then copied and then analyzed, and then what ever secret actions that might entail triggered, all before the user even released the mouse button controlling the cursor hovering over “Cancel”.

      Then there is the Internet, an excellent example as you point out -but by no means the only one – of a non intuitive way of sucking data (including very personal data – such as behavior patterns) out of the users control.

      Finally, from the above and many other advantages, there is a sort of sophistication the user simply has no way of being aware of, never mind reacting to in a protective manner. Taking candy from a baby so-to-speak.

  9. Privacy! Privacy! Privacy! I have neither a Twitter nor a Facebook account. As a matter of principle, I never visit websites where you have to sign in. If we do not put a stop to this cyber snooping, it won’t be long before we have to sign in to buy gas or visit a restaurant.

    1. Agreed; the price of convenience is already very high and will only continue to rise.

      Note, I use provider below to denote a provider of any on-line service, not just internet access. The problem here is when the government forces you to use Twitter or Facebook (or both) by making it the only means available to complete some task you must do on-line by law For instance, in some states, corporations and small business must file taxes electronically, and the only way to do that is via third party on-line tax service providers. Note that these providers have a privacy policy that one must “sign” before using their software that is like a barn door – giving them essentially the right to do almost anything with your tax data.

      The next sort of problem arises in instances where the provider has a political agenda. If Facebook decides you are too conservative, or some other provider decides you are too liberal, they can mess with your account, potentially preventing you from fulfilling your obligations to the state. I don’t know if this has happened yet, but clearly the issue could arise, and if it did, States are horribly sluggish to address the problem, never mind acknowledge it, particularly if it relates to third party software because the process for change is expensive and difficult (too many links to communicate clearly).

      Of course there’s always lawyers. No money to get one? Well, if you’re broke, it goes without saying you’re guilty anyway and a leech on society to boot.

      Intrusions into our privacy and abuse of power given to private corporations the is going to get much worse, before it gets any better.

  10. The government won’t stop using Facebook or Twitter as these 2 social posting sites fit in with the establishment narratives.

  11. I agree Darren. Government and state organizations should stay away from corporate-owned sites. My local community college now lets Google run the email system and other apps. I see this as a clear violation of personal information – why does a corporation have access to student’s SSNs, DOB, and transcripts. Big Brother is taking over every aspect of our lives.

    I was checking out an MA program in Creative Writing the other day — today I went on my husband’s FB to see what family had posted and an ad for that college popped up. It’s not even MY FB (I don’t have an account) – I find this tracking totally creepy.

  12. My community uses an app called ‘Next Door’ which hooks up the neighborhoods. The city has joined in which has been helpful. It also allows us to sell things and vet vendors.

  13. Government is part of a ‘social contract’ known as The Constitution. To go outside that required initially a 100% no exceptions vote. To go outside that now requires following that social contract without let, hindrance or change unless by those methods authorized by the original vote.

    Government is not part of some other society other than most of it’s employees are citizens. Since Facebook and other have chosen to set their owns standards AND act as a secular religion government has no choice but to stand away. Lest they be guilt of establishing a state religion.;

    Notice that part of the First Amendment does not specify the kind nor the type of religion which is another way of saying ‘belief system.’ To do do automatically puts them on the wrong side of the fence. No matter whose fence is the subject for discussion.

    It is more than the appearance of impropriety it is a violation of the social contract that counts in a Constitutional Republic. That made with the entire citizenry.

    Either that or they should get involved in all forms including this forum.

    Do you really want government’s nose in a forum that discusses government itself?

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