Alaska holds vote to allow lawmakers to use Facebook on government computers

This happened back in late October, but I just caught it and thought it was worth mentioning: the Alaska Legislative Council (ALC) voted to allow lawmakers and some staffers to use Facebook from government computers, if they were conducting legislative business.

The ALC is a group of legislators that essentially manages legislative functions in terms of equipment, staff, mailings, etc (in Pennsylvania, we have the Bipartisan Management Committee).  Until now, legislators could not use government computers to manage their Facebook accounts.  The new rules allow them to do so, provided they are using it to manage their legislative presence.  Staff can use Facebook, but only if designated by legislative boss.

The debate lasted for over an hour and did have disagreement, but was ultimately passed:

Sen. Peter Micciche, a Republican from Soldotna, argued that seriously restricting Facebook would have been like banning e-mail twenty years ago.

“The world changes, and there’s a whole demographic of folks that I communicate with about legislative affairs and legislative issues and community meetings and committee meetings on Facebook that often don’t communicate in any other way,” said Micciche.

This is one of many tricky issues that politicians face in terms of dealing with Social Media.  Other issues include:

  • Constituent Service:  Yesterday, I got a request for a Property Tax/Rent Rebate for via a  Facebook message.  We are taking care of this request, of course, but tracking constituent work via Facebook is much more difficult than over standard channels (like Email, phone, etc).  Staff, and legislators, must be trained in how to communicate over these channels.
  • Social Media ads:  Most legislative bodies allow for legislators to send out taxpayer funded newsletters that discuss ways that each legislator can provide constituent service, provide information on happenings at the legislative level, etc.  Obviously, it costs money to create, design, print and mail these newsletters.  So, here’s an interesting question: what about Facebook ads that serve the same function?  After all, you can target Facebook ads by location, age, interests and more – part of the power of these ads is that they can be highly efficient and relevant to the users, and perhaps a more effective use of limited taxpayer dollars. 
  • Mobile devices:  Most legislators are given phones that they can use for legislative purposes.  Campaign purposes are a no-no.  But, can you use your personal Facebook or a legislative phone, provided no political business is conducted?  How can you enforce such a policy?

Clear ground rules are critical for the protection of the taxpayers and legislators themselves.  I was glad to read that Alaska is taking steps to modernize and clarify their Social Media policies; every legislature, and really, every business, should do the same.

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