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Welcome to the United States of Facebook

by Andrea Di Maio  |  February 7, 2011  |  10 Comments

For the last few years I having been looking at government agencies around the world moving baby steps on social media.. I have been reading dozens of social media policies, guidelines, strategies. I have been pondering countless blog posts, discussion fora, slideshares. I have been hearing politicians and consultants, self-appointed communication 2.0 experts and bloggers-turned-opinion-leaders.

Everybody has been talking about how social media are changing the relationships between government and citizens, about the willingness to participate, about digital natives joining the government workforce.  This is why government agencies are rushing to establish policies, to set boundaries, to articulate business cases, to look for opportunities.

Now, what if this were all pointless? What if the behavioral patterns – both professional and personal – that social media like Facebook will develop and sustain were incompatible with existing regulations, processes, decision frameworks? What if the very concept of government and governance as we know them ceased to make sense?

Let me offer a few hypothetical scenarios for reflection.

  • Why should I comply with administrative obligations – ranging from paying taxes or fines, to separating garbage for recycling – if  I can instantly access a wealth of information about how not to comply as well as evidence about all those who do not?
  • Why should I allow a teacher to give a bad mark to his or her son, if I can launch a cause against the teacher, digging from Facebook information about his or her past and from pupils in previous classes or schools?
  • Why should I report a petty crime to the authorities if I can share the picture to a neighborhood watch group on Facebook?
  • Why should a student do a home assignment, if  the solution is either already available on the Internet, or can be socialized through Facebook with multiple classmate? And how could the teacher give him or her a bad mark, unless there is a mark for “degree of collaboration” or “ability to do research”?
  • Why should I accept to be treated by a doctor appointed by my public heath care organization after having seen his or her low ratings on Facebook?
  • Why should I accept that theaters and newspaper get government subsidies when I can be a reader, a member of the audience or a performer free of charge?
  • Why should I pay a ticket to visit the same museum that I can browse for free in the comfort of my living room?
  • Why should there be rules for equal air time for different election candidates, if they can do whatever they like on the Internet?
  • Why should I care if the government agency that employs me does not give me access to Facebook? I will use it on my smartphone anyhow.
  • Why should I work only with my agency colleagues on a particular problem? I can create a closed LinkedIn group and invite a few folks from my various networks to help me.

Every single relation inside and outside government may be challenged or even turned upside down.

What social media does is to put control back in the hands of the individual. Control in the past has been mostly based on information. Back in history, from oral transmission to manuscripts, from Gutenberg to radio, from TV to the Internet, people have had access to an increasing quantity of information. However this information was always conveyed through some form of organization: priests, publishers, media tycoons, industries, government agencies, unions, and so forth.

Social media is different. Each and every one of us can be a publisher, a commentator, an influencer, everyone’s voice can be heard. Of course this does not make the need for organizations go away: we still need to classify information, to group around issues, to give ourselves some basic rules to turn noise into value, to have welfare, to care about our relatives, our health, to have a job. But we need different kinds of organizations, and all we have today are new infrastructures, such as Facebook or Twitter or YouTube, while others – manufacturers, retailers, newspapers, government, banks – have not really changed.

But they will. Just think about money. It is a concept used to intermediate and decouple the exchange of value. I need something from you and I pay you a given amount of money; you may need something from me, or more likely from an organization to whose value chain I contribute, and you pay me (or that organization) another amount of money. But in a world where information is value, why can’t information be a currency? How many Gigabytes of music will you get me for a connection with a valuable part of my social network? How many tips about how to pay less taxes will I get you in return for a positive rating in your social network?

So while we think we have figured out how to make our existing organizations benefit from or limit the risk of social media, all we are really doing is trying to fit a cube into a round hole.

People on social media are aggregating and re-arranging in new and unpredictable ways, cutting across organizational and geographical boundaries, forming and dissolving bonds, coalescing around a cause to then scatter separately in different directions.

Our government systems are based on pulling together people who share a territory, who have something in common – be it language, religion, land, history, ideals or a combination of all these. Rules of residence, immigration, citizenship apply to processes that take from days to years to be completed. But in social media I can join a platform, a group, a cause today and leave tomorrow. And yet there is something greater than the individual behind value creation in social media too.

So what is the closest approximation to a form of government on social media? Maybe it is federation. Federation of interests, of networks, of information, complementing and contrasting more traditional criteria such as language, religion or political beliefs. Whatever is below that federal level (communities? groups? states? virtual cities?) has yet to be determined.

But, for now, welcome to the United States of Facebook.

Category: social-networks-in-government  

Tags: facebook  government-20  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
15 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies strategies, Web 2.0, open government, cloud computing, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Welcome to the United States of Facebook

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andrea DiMaio, Stephen Peteritas, Bromley Stone, joviann , Keith Ricketts and others. Keith Ricketts said: Welcome to the United States of Facebook: For the last few years I having been looking at government agencies ar… […]

  2. Nice article!

    I’ve recently subscribed Gartner’s blog and I found your articles very interesting. And I’m discovering also an interesting world: business analysis and research across the internet… hope to work for that in my future! :)

    Thank you again, best regards.

  3. The new forex super-power, from

    Forget the Dollar. Ignore the Euro. Most definitely stop thinking about the Yen or the Pound. There is a new currency on its way and it is poised to take over.

    Whilst many thought that the European single currency would revolutionise the way people use currencies, and would create a super-power within the fx markets, this new currency has the potential to make Monopoly money out of its competitors.

    Before currency traders lick their lips in anticipation, and holiday makers go down to their local Post Office to get their fair share of the new “Super-Currency” please read on…

    This new currency is called the Facebook Credit (ISO Code yet to be confirmed, but for ease lets call it the FBC) Facebook describe it as a “virtual currency that enables fast and easy transactions across games on Facebook”. Games??? Pffft…. what a load of rubbish. The FBC is here for one purpose, and that is the next step in Mark Zuckerberg’s global domination!

    Facebook Credits are nothing new and are already in circulation, but only the biggest Facebook addict would have come into contact with them. However, things are about to change. From July 1st this year, all social game developers on the Facebook platform are required to process payments through Facebook Credits.

    I know exactly what you’re saying. You’re saying “I never play on Facebook games”, or “If I have to start paying for Facebook I’ll not use it anymore”. Well you’re 100% correct, and Zuckerberg and his team know this.

    To this day Facebook has more than 500 million active users, half of which log on to Facebook on a daily basis. Over a period of a month, people all over the world spend over 700 billion hours checking out their friends on Facebook, and now with the launch of Facebook plugins, 250 million people per month view Facebook content without even realising!

    Whilst Zuckerberg initially plans only to launch Facebook Credits for Facebook Game users, he eventually will use his currency to take over the the whole cyber-world! Already by far the biggest social networking site, Facebook has its fingers in many pies and will slowly begin to take branch out into other web-based fields. Google has already seen a drop in business levels since Facebook users could search for external content on their Facebook Wall. Forget iTunes, you’ll soon be buying your music on Facebook Tunes. Don’t even consider looking on eBay or Amazon, the largest online retailer will soon be the Facebook Marketplace.

    And how exactly will you pay for all these new features? Thats right, you guessed it. Your US Dollars, British Pounds and your Euros are not welcome here. Instead, get out your (Facebook) ‘Credit’card and continue.

    Its not as if the FBC will be pegged to any other currency (ie 1 FBC = 1USD). The Facebook Credit will fluctuate in value just like any other currency, meaning that in reality it could become a tradable commodity. And with the huge demand for anything which bears the Facebook logo it’s likely to be yet another Zuckerberg success.

    I can see it now, parents will bribe their children with Facebook Credits instead of pocket money. School bullies will demand Facebook Credits instead of lunch money. Employers will offer a company pension scheme as a percentage of their monthly wage in FBC’s. Perhaps even hedge funds will short GBP/FBC and go long USD/FBC!

    To learn more about integrating Facebook Credits please visit

    The Currency Kid

  4. Gwynne says:

    I have been having variations of this discussion with my teenager. [Talking with him is like being a college freshman again!]

    As he turns our established institutions around in his agile mind–asking “why” with the fervor of a 2 year old–I know that he is right. Our models of government, industry, country, commerce seem immutable and forever, but are relatively recent and becoming anachronistic. So, what’s next?

    I agree that we haven’t touched what it really means to have so much [potential] control in the hands of each individual. Will this mean that any federations that develop will be elastic like the cloud? [sorry, but I couldn’t resist].

    More individual, more personal government may also mean more responsibility for each individual citizen. What is the new social compact? and can government guide this?

    Write more about this!!!

  5. Megan says:

    Awesome post.

    And to take it to the next step for those inside the walls of government:

    Why should I comply with management’s decisions, when my experience is that those decisions are consistently poor? Why should I comply, when I know that Obama has asked all Agencies and Departments to “cut the red tape”, and that the rules are constantly changing?

    Why shouldn’t my voice be as loud as my manager’s? If there is an issue to discuss, and I am the resident expert, why am I not also the resident “decision-maker”?

    In a world as complex as ours, online networks are the best way to get up-to-date info, and most gov’t managers are not particularly web-savvy.

    Times (and processes) are changing in the United States of Facebook.

  6. […] otwierania instytucji publicznych. Temu tematowi poświęcił niedawno dwa wpisy Andrea Di Maio: tu i […]

  7. […] you want to hear from them. As more and more people move to Facebook for social interaction, even challenging our conceptions of governance and society, these coded decisions matter more and and […]

  8. […] View the original post, Welcome to the United States of Facebook. […]

  9. […] Welcome to the United States of Facebook (Gartner Blog) Weiterempfehlen: […]

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