New tool helps spot fake federal social media accounts

There are thousands of social media accounts claiming to be associated with the federal government, but how do you know which are real? It's relatively easy to set up a Twitter account or Facebook profile claiming government connections that aren't real.

Officials at the General Services Administration want to to aid citizens with a new tool to allow them to find out if a given account is legit. 

Available on HowTo.gov, GSA’s Social Media Registry supports more than 20 of the most common social media platforms. Its main purpose is three-fold:

  • The public will be able to verify that a social media account is run by the government, or spot a fake.
  • The registry will help manage all these accounts governmentwide by offering application programming interfaces that allow agencies to get data about their agencies.
  • Finally, the registry serves as a one-stop shop that eliminates the need for different solutions for each agency.

The database is build in Ruby on Rails -- an open-source web framework -- and officials said the code that powers the registry is open source and available on GitHub. Officials said they teamed with industry partners such as Sunlight Labs, Code for America and Expert Labs to make the registry open and sharable.

The registry will eventually power a Social Media Checker that verifies social media URLs against the database and determines whether an account is registered to an official agency. By mid-May 2013, users will be able to visit a public web page, paste in the URL of a social media account and check whether it’s in the federal social media database.

Only accounts of official U.S. government agencies, organizations or programs will be tracked by the registry. Government employees will be able to register accounts managed by federal agencies, elected officials, members of the president’s cabinet and heads of agencies. No personal, employee or other types of social media accounts will be included.

Although the Social Media Checker won’t be available until early summer next year, agencies can begin using the registry effective immediately, beginning with registering their information.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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