The Rubbish Side of Social Media Users

September 16, 2013

Over the years I’ve been using Twitter, blogging and other social media I’ve noticed the reticence of some users, particularly from public bodies such as police, central government and arms-length government organizations to take part in a conversation. Locally, in York, I follow the police who both maintain a dialogue and make Tweets interesting to followers by adding humour (where appropriate), safety and security advice, along with road closure warnings. In contrast very recently, being unable to find a way to complain to Greater Manchester Police I tweeted my complaint with a strong hint of sarcasm, I obviously failed miserably when a day later @GMPolice made a favourite of it!

This similar approach has been used on the regional offices of central government failing similarly when they don’t even respond. I’ve got so use to the local council not responding to Tweets or emails that I now just don’t expect it. In contrast, some councillors (but not many) willingly maintain a dialogue or move it to email, whilst others might as well not bother having a Twitter account. I notice that a number of bodies such as the Environment Agency are encouraging managers to have Twitter accounts on their behalf, whilst the same individuals do not have a publicly available email account. I take this as a symptom of the risk aversive nature of such bodies, when they don’t want individuals appearing to speak for a ‘department’. The same people are, by large, also averse to holding a dialogue in Twitter but happily tell us the details of their day-to-day work (yawn).

A lot of this I take to being the absence of a good policy and training. If bodies are going to get themselves involved in social media they need to accept complaints and compliments by it, as well as posting interesting stuff, but less of the day-to-day drivel, please!


May 22, 2012

It’s nothing self-inflicted pain of working in government ICT its another source of social media documents, reports and papers – the wiki is attached to GovSM’s blog – thanks Josh! The blog may be more appropriate to those into the USA but remains a useful source to investigate for all. Amongst the documents is Ines Mergel’s ‘A Manager’s Guide for Using Twitter in Government’, which is coincidental with the UK Cabinet Office’s launch of its Social Media Guidance for Civil Servants.

However, am I alone in finding much of what comes out of Twitter as ‘brown-nosing’? Is it necessary to keep saying how wonderful one’s political leaders are in public? Are most of them capable of fulfilling to dual function of typing into social media and listening to the debate going on in front of them? Social media have their place but are they really such a big deal?

The election result will not be Tweeted (in advance)

May 12, 2012

Thanks to the MIT Technology Review for making me aware of a paper by Daniel Cayo-Avello entitled “I Wanted to Predict Elections with Twitter and all I got was this Lousy Paper”. It provides the latest antidote to those who see social media as some sort of godsend for political participation and haven’t read the wonderful book ‘The Victorian Internet’ by Tom Standage which puts technology in its place, as just as what it is, technology.

As is stated in the conclusions:

  • Social media users are not an unbiased and representative sample of the voting population
  • Not everyone using social media is interested in or following politics
  • Just because it’s on social media doesn’t mean it’s true
  • Analysis of the humour and sarcasm within social media isn’t easy

This doesn’t mean social media aren’t a useful and expressive tool, it just means don’t read more into them than they are ever likely to deliver. The paper does provide a useful bibliography (and analysis) of the papers on the topic.

Social media guidelines

September 28, 2011

Having made my presentation at Ethicomp 2011 on the subject of the ethics involved in employing social media I now discover a fascinating piece on Science Daily regarding research in Spain reporting that Journalists prefer Twitter. Whilst this is interesting in the context of my previous post About face, what really caught my eye was the statement that “The study also analyzes whether or not the media has guidelines or agreed upon norms regarding the use of the social networks. Currently, only about one in ten journalists (13%) says that their medium has such guidelines. Fifty-four percent recognize that they lack guidelines of this kind, and the remaining 33% confirm that, although they do not have them, their medium is working on them.”

There had been a number of people and organizations involved in producing social media ethics and for the sake of ease I’ll attach the relevant bits of my paper’s bibliography:

Blood, R. (2002). Weblog Ethics. In The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Blog (pp. 114-121). New York, USA: Basic Books.

ESOMAR (2011). ESOMAR GUIDELINE FOR ONLINE RESEARCH. Journal, 19. Retrieved from

Ess, C., AoIR ethics working group, (2002). Ethical decision-making and Internet research: Recommendations from the aoir ethics working committee Journal, 33. Retrieved from

Kuhn, M. (2004). C.O.B.E. Revised: Form-Based Duties in Blog Ethics. Retrieved 14 May 2011, 2011, from

Kuhn, M. (2007). Interactivity and Prioritizing the Human: A Code of Blogging Ethics. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 22(1), 18-36.

Rogerson, S. (2006). Ethics of the Blogosphere. IMIS Journal, 16(5).

Of them all the ESOMAR is the most current, and thus probably the most relevant in a rapidly changing field, although the AOIR is another professional body that is worth observing. So for the last nine years there’s been stuff floating about which whilst not saying ‘Twitter’, per se, will cover the majority of social media.


September 21, 2011

There were a number of discussions at Ethicomp 2011 around the value of social media, particularly it’s role in the ‘Arab Spring’, and at the same time the BBC has been broadcasting two programmes idealistically entitled ‘How Facebook Changed the World‘. I’d already blogged supporting the cybersceptic approach of Morozov and others, but on the train journeys to and from the conference in Sheffield I took the opportunity to read two recent articles from the MIT Technology Review.

The first short piece from 8 September 2011 entitled “Beyond Streetbook” by Jillian C. York (when considering the dichotomy) states quite gloomily that “The revolution will be tweeted, and Facebooked, but it will also be fought bloodily, on the streets”. The main conclusion being that the power of the incumbents are sometimes more powerful than any opposition, even when using the dissident digerati to assist.

The second, and longer, piece ‘ Streetbook‘ by John Pollock looks in some detail at recent events, whilst harking back to Malcolm Gladwell’s article in New Yorker of October 4, 2010 – ‘Small Change – why the revolution will not be tweeted‘. One of the interviewees in the article, a technically-savvy soccer-supporter is quoted as stating “Don’t talk, don’t fucking analyze, get to the street, go fight”, which is hardly the words of someone mediating a revolution through a keyboard. In Tunisia, where more than 300 are reported dead, texts, emails and the telephone were all use along with social media – the revolution was marketed digitally, whilst delivered bloodily.

As Gladwell states “Innovators tend to be solipsists. They often want to cram every stray fact and experience into their new model”. This means they forget about history and how revolutions occurred in the past, even the recent past. Innovators forget how uprisings against injustice were planned without the use of the telegraph, radio, television or the Internet – they happened because a small group of people forced changed and used whatever tools they could to do it.

If social media have assisted change in the Middle East, all well and good, but they themselves didn’t change anything, the people who stood against authority did. However, as Pollock concludes “Real change remains elusive; those replacing Ben Ali and Mubarak are mostly members of the same stale regimes.” Will social media generate “real change”? Probably not…

New horizons

February 17, 2010

In my Internet wanderings, I  fell over a recent speech by the Rt Hon Jim Knight MP entitled “Future of Government in the Digital Space“, apparently given at the DotGov Live conference in London on 20 January 2010. In some ways I thought I’d fallen through a black hole since, despite talk of Twitter and Fix My Street in the eleventh paragraph he clearly states:

“The Prime Minister recently asked me to be the Ministerial lead for Government on meeting the target to get virtually all public services online by March 2014, following the publication last month of the Smarter Government White Paper.”

Now, as part of the introduction to my dissertation I have carefully prepared a timeline for e-government and I clearly remember writing that in the year 2000 the then Prime Minister set the target date, in line with the European Commission’s Lisbon agenda, for electronic service delivery as 2005 but unlike the other countries committed us to every possible transaction!

I also remember the celebrations and congratulations in Whitehall in 2005, or maybe early 2006, when the target was stated to have been reached and the unit responsible disbanded!

Now a key lesson I thought we had learned following the first ten years of e-government is the UK was that electronic service delivery is more than sticking a web front end on every service. To borrow an expression from my acquaintance Dan Champion, when he talks about the difficulty of true web accessibility – “it’s not a binary state.” In other words, it’s not black and white. The same can be applied to electronic service delivery (ESD). It is only truly ESD or e-government when the citizen completes the transaction end-to-end without humans fudging about in the middle.

If the web transaction creates an email that arrives on someone’s desk that involves rekeying data into an existing “old world” application, it’s a fudge. It may be a reasonable fudge if that particular transaction only occurs once in a blue moon and the cost of automation makes it not worthwhile, but in that case it’s not end-to-end ESD, its grey and not a nought or one!

As things currently stand there are a lot of grey transactions, which must remain until we restructure government and processes. To talk about getting virtually all public services online by March 2014, when I’ve no idea what he means by “virtually” or “public services”, especially after the billions spent in the run-up to 2006, is a strange statement. I thought Jim Knight was around in those years.

Most importantly someone’s forgotten that e-government may involve binary but of itself it isn’t, it’s a grey amorphous blob that needs resourcing end-to-end, and that includes rationality amongst the law-makers, to make it easier!

I Googled ‘twitter’ and ‘e-government’ and found enlightenment, well almost!

March 1, 2009

Idling away and wondering how to lauch myself on the world of ‘tweats’ I Googled ‘twitter’ and ‘e-government’ and found the following e-pamphlet: “New Labour’s Digital Vision: A Survey of E-government in the UK since 1997”, I then backtabbed and found the site – – and the interesting group of researchers e-huddled within.

The content of this very piece was the stimulus for PhD, this second time around anyway! It was having spent so many years trying to fulfill the Whitehall dream and then seeing it for the puff of smoke it was, I felt the need to analyse.

In my opinion this paper, like so many others about UK e-government, might have benefitted from:

  • some input from practitioners – most of the references are to the media or government documents
  • a review of the academic literature – there has been some good research including that by McLoughin & Cornford and Cornford & Richter (see references below).
  • taking a look further back – e-government was actually started by the Conservatives, Nu-Labour picked it up taking along the New Public Management baggage, which was probably the downfall of e-government
  • looking at the bureaucracy – there was little central control, which was actually needed, and a lot of money wasted as a result. The Ministerial control was continually in flux – the Labour brains behind e-government, Liam Byrne, never had power in that arena.

In addition, one thing that seem to be missed was pointing any fingers at Tony Blair. It was his continued raising of the bar that set the ridiculous target (100% services by 2005), presumably to outdo colleagues abroad. Fortunately, other governments were better advised and maintained some rational restraint. The paper almost admits that we never met the targets and accepts that “the reality never met the rhetoric”, however it can’t see the wood for the trees and that essentially e-government is all about using ICT to facilitate improved services to the citizens, which will only be done by improved processes, and much of what has occurred in the past ten years has obfusticated processes and frequently changed them making improvements difficult.

The author is right to criticise it as a failed experiment, but is wrong to use decentralization as a cure. Part of the problem is too much autonomy at Whitehall, whilst continually bullying local government from the CLG/ODPM/DTLR/DETR/DoE. Central government want to get the mote out of its own eye to employ a biblical metaphor.

Incidemtally, if you are “twitterpating” I can be found at


McLoughlin, I., Cornford, J., (2006). “Transformational change in the local state? Enacting e-government in English local authorities.” Journal of Management & Organization, 12(3): 195 – 208.

Cornford, J., Richter, P., (2007). “Customer Focus in UK e-Government: Or, Putting the Politics back into e-Government.” International Journal of Business Science and Applied Management 2(1): 34 – 46.