Social Media Involvement Evolves

March 1, 2012
By Maryann Lawlor
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Government may have been in the slow lane to accept social media as a viable conduit for sharing information, but agencies are now coordinating their efforts to ensure messages going out to the public can be trusted. Members of a panel discussing its uses at the AFCEA International Homeland Security Conference said the technologies that facilitate ubiquitous communications among the public are merely another change in generations of changes. The key is that the same principles that govern reliable news reports and privacy and civil liberties protections apply whether the public is depending on newspapers, broadcast, Facebook, Skype or Twitter, they agreed. Recent developments in social media use involve the two-way street that is widening between government agencies and the general public. Social media tools developed in two different realms: individuals were using it to share information and opinions with each other and the government was using it to disseminate information. Today, the government legally monitors information being shared in the open source arena of these tools to track and identify trouble spots, oncoming disasters and other incidents that may require their assistance. Alexander W. Joel, civil liberties protection officer, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, emphasized that government agencies must continue to follow the law when it comes to social media. Although change is inevitable, the policies and promises of the U.S. Constitution apply as much to these evolving technologies as they did when telephone use became widespread. The civil liberties protection infrastructure has organizations in place to ensure oversight, he stated. "Change will occur. We need to know how we will respond to these changes, whether they are threats or responses to threats," he added. When social media tools first became the rage, a lot of incorrect information was shared; however, today the public and government agencies have wised up about how much to trust the information shared in these venues. Whether it is the general public, journalists or government leaders, everyone looks for confirmation of information before believing and sharing it. Joel summed it up with his evaluation of information sharing in social media:

"It's not like you have a great big database in the sky. Instead you have a series of relationships that facilitate information sharing."

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