For years I’ve followed online chatter suggesting politicians, parliament and government as a whole don’t do enough to keep pace with our evolving digital lifestyle — particularly participation in social media. Meanwhile, political ideology often makes the online environment particularly hostile, begging the question “why would they?” In fact, politicians are often criticized for making the same kinds of online mistakes many so-called key influencers made as they learned the ropes in the pioneering days of social media culture.
When I was contacted by the Canadian Press to comment on a potentially lucrative around-the-clock social media monitoring RFP issued by the government, I could smell the criticism that would surely come barrelling down the intertubes and land squarely on the comments sections of the news sites (which always drives up the pageviews).
I completely understand how monitoring by the government can appear dubious — a not-so-veiled effort to identify and neutralize critics. There will always be valid concerns and criticisms that technologies can be exploited for evil.
However, let’s be fair for a moment.
Isn’t the world going digital? Isn’t Twitter an early warning system for activities, events, mistakes and disasters? Isn’t Facebook a legitimate platform on which Canadians engage in discourse on a variety of themes? Aren’t blogs where people consider real issues and offer thoughtful analysis? Aren’t videos published to communicate ideas and document events? Aren’t photos a way to show people, places and things? Aren’t comments sections and forums where people share their reactions?
Isn’t the web where people are meeting and interacting? Isn’t public information public? Aren’t many champions of digital culture also champions of open data?
Why shouldn’t the government be allowed to measure public opinion and identify issues and concerns that need to be addressed based on publicly available information? They already rely on daily media clipping services to track media coverage, op-eds and letters to the editor. If they have a computer and Internet connection, shouldn’t politicians and government departments have the same freedom to monitor (and participate in) social media as you and me?
Moreover, if social media monitoring is considered surveillance, how many people, companies and NGOs are similarly guilty of committing “invasion of privacy” as an anonymous commenter suggested on CTV.ca?
The Liberals, Green Party and NDP are already praised for their attention to and use of social media. Where do we draw the line? And who gets to decide? Would the Liberals or NDP face the same criticism?
And, to get the conversation going, have a look at this funny yet possibly revealing Onion report on a CIA-funded surveillance program.
NOTE: I recognize this is a polarizing topic. I welcome and encourage participation representing all opinions, however, I ask that you do so without inflammatory language and ad hominem attacks.