Representative democracy vs. social media

In my New Media Management class we talked about access and information distribution of government information through social media channels. I have written about digital access issues earlier this semester here and don’t think that it is necessarily an either or question, but a question of convenience of access.

Another question came up yesterday in class: Given that we live in a representative democracy, are we shutting out audiences on purpose by moving content and conversations to social media channels? My answer to this is based on interviews I have conducted with social media directors in the federal agencies and departments: In my opinion, we are not excluding people, instead we are opening up new channels to reach new audiences who were never before engaged in any kind of interaction with government. As an example, watching a live town-hall meeting on Facebook, while you are taking care of the kids at night or can’t leave the house, beats not being able to show up or getting involved. So it comes back to the convenience issue and that social media enables interaction where no interactions happened before. So ultimately, government has the opportunity to become more inclusive instead of exclusive.

In addition, all of my interview partners have mentioned that social media channels are not used to replace other (traditional) information media. Information that is published in a press release or on the website, is also published on Twitter or Facebook. The diversity of channels and new forms of media, such as videos, podcasts or blog updates, are therefore adding to the existing channels.


About Ines Mergel

I am Full Professor of Public Administration at the Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Konstanz, Germany. Previously, I served as Assistant and then Associate Professor (with tenure) at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, NY. In my research, I focus on informal social networks in the public sector and the adoption and diffusion of digital service innovations in government organizations. I teach classes on social media management, digital government, public management, and social network analysis.

One thought on “Representative democracy vs. social media

  1. Hey Ines! I agree with you in the fact that social media is not excluding citizens, it’s actually opening up new channels of communication between government and citizens. Historically, we’ve only brought government part way to the people (example: posting agendas online), but now these tools also us to truly bring government the entire way (example: live town hall meeting on Facebook). These tools can’t be categorized as being exclusive if they’re building a bridge between government and citizens that never existed before.

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