Social media drives sharing
Movement towards a social media sharing environment makes progress
Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and wikis have transformed the way the world at large shares information, and that’s no less true of government. Although government social media sites have more restrictions and are more closely monitored than those outside government, every agency and department now uses social media to communicate with the public and frequently to share information internally.
Intellipedia, for example, has served as a prime sharing tool for the intelligence community since 2006. Based on the same open-source software used to build Wikipedia, Intellipedia hosts hundreds of thousands of pages and documents that can be accessed, read, edited and written by individuals with the appropriate security clearance.
It has had its problems. Earlier versions were considered hard to work with, and there has been resistance from users who prefer older methods of communication and collaboration. But it has also received raves as a way of providing up-to-date information and allowing agents to share intelligence and information across agency boundaries.
Diplopedia, also created in 2006, is a wiki run by the State Department that includes more than 14,600 articles on foreign affairs subjects and “diplomatic statecraft.” Some 5,000 State employees have contributed their knowledge and expertise to the wiki, according to the department’s website.
Last year, the department also launched Corridor, a closed social networking site that uses the open-source WordPress platform. It allows State employees to create profiles and share information with one another on a secure platform.
The State Department was recently named the world’s leading user of technology tools for diplomacy in a study by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, a think tank based in Australia.
The Obama administration has come out forcefully for the use of social media by agencies. In an April 2010 memo, the Office of Management and Budget addressed the potential of the Paperwork Reduction Act to serve as an impediment to the administration’s goal of open government and ultimately concluded that, under established principles, “the [act] does not apply to many uses of such [social] media and technologies.”
That statement was widely taken as the administration essentially promoting the use of social media and Web-based technology for government communication as a way of reducing the use of paper and taking advantage of new technologies to make government more open, said Dan Diiulio, director of engineering at General Dynamics Information Technology’s Navy and Air Force Systems Division.
“Subsequent to that, the deputy secretary of the Defense Department issued a directive calling for greater access to Internet-based capabilities across the DOD such as social media and e-mail,” he said.
However, social media is still being used cautiously at DOD, Diiulio said, because there’s the recognition that the technology opens information up to potential compromise, particularly when parties outside DOD’s control are involved. The military has controls in place that allow the typical service person to have access to social media and a good understanding of how to use it, Diiulio said, but that doesn’t necessarily extend to family members or others.
“Because of that the military is only opening things up to a certain amount of access, and there are always controls put in place to allow for the secure sharing of information,” he said.
It’s unclear what the future will hold for social media use by government agencies, particularly for information sharing beyond agency firewalls. A recent article in Federal Computer Week, for example, pointed out that agencies have mostly picked the low-hanging fruit already.
The caution shown by DOD might also be causing a similar drag on other organizations. The Government Accountability Office noted in a 2011 report that most major agencies were using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but they had made mixed progress in developing and implementing policies and procedures to address privacy and security challenges.
Social media technologies pose unique risks, GAO said, and without those policies and procedures, agencies cannot be assured of adequately meeting the challenges.