Nearly all major federal agencies use social media, GAO says

22 out of 24 federal agencies using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

Nearly all major federal agencies now have a social media presence and are beginning to deal with the privacy, security and information management problems presented by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other new media, officials said at a House hearing today.

Twenty-two out of 24 major federal agencies now use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Gregory Wilshusen, director of information security issues for the Government Accountability Office, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee.

Although the Web 2.0 and social media have become more popular in government, for both internal and external use, agencies have problems managing privacy, security, records management and freedom of information regulations, Wilshusen said.


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For example, the agencies are working to apply the Privacy Act of 1974, which protects personally-identifiable information, to social networking sites. There also are problems in determining how to appropriately limit collection and use of personal information and how and when to extend privacy protections to information collected and used by third-party providers of Web 2.0 services, Wilshusen said.

“Personal information needs to be safeguarded from security threats, and guidance may be needed for employees on how to use social media Web sites properly and how to handle personal information in the context of social media,” he said.

In addition, Web 2.0 technologies, such as wikis and Facebook pages, present problems for federal records management and maintaining public access to information. Agencies may find it difficult to assess whether public comments on a wiki or a Facebook page are part of the official record and must be preserved, and how often the comments must be captured. This also contributes to problems in responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, especially with regard to social media sites run by third parties, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Government agencies have begun dealing with some of the risks. For example, the Office of Management and Budget recently issued guidance on application of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 to social media and Web 2.0 technologies and on protecting privacy at third-party-operated Web sites. Wilshusen made no recommendations.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has been actively using social media and developing policies for managing those records.

“NARA does realize that Web 2.0 platforms raise additional records management questions,” David Ferriero, the national archivist, testified.

The archives agency has issued Web 2.0 guidance and will be publishing new guidance in the form of a bulletin, to be finished by Sept. 30. It also is surveying federal agencies on their use of social media and plans to release that information by Sept. 30.


About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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