The participatory nature of social media is fostering an environment that enables public discourse between individuals and governments in the public sphere.
Members of the public operating in diverse ways for diverse purposes can now publicize and directly respond to social media communications from government bodies (Holland, 2015) Such behaviour has enabled previously recipient-specific social media updates by government bodies to gradually become discussion forums that allow members of the public to observe government workings and to actively participate in discussions with officials through social media networks. (Sniderman, 2011)
As Travis Holland (2015) argues, local governments in particular are not yet utilizing the discursive nature of social media platforms to their full extent. Instead Holland suggests that governments primarily employ social media as a means of information sharing. Research by Swinburne university academic Khayri Omar (2014) into government use of social media technologies has also hinted that governments are not adequately engaging in discourse with members of the community via social media. Omar suggests that discourse is not occurring despite the community overwhelmingly wanting governments to make better use of technologies such as social media to engage with the community. Holland (2015) does concede that promising signs are indeed emerging. Local governments are making efforts to acknowledge and respond to issues raised on their social media platforms by members of the public.
Bridging the gap between governments and publics is a step in which the Internet in social media can make a difference to the way we govern. As was the case with the printing press, the Internet and social media platforms spread not just media consumption but media production as well. This enhances our ability to articulate and debate issues and opinions both publicly and in private. (Shirky (2011). New media conducive to fostering participation can increase freedoms and by extension the democratic process, just as the printing press, the postal service, the telegraph, and the telephone did previously. Shirky (2011)
As a closing thought- If collaboration between social media users and governments becomes more widely accepted in the future it has the potential to trigger a crowd sourced, wiki style of self- governance. where a policy paper is submitted to the public (or created by members of the public) where any user can add articles or edit submissions in a collaborative effort to create official policy, thus enabling a true form of digital-democracy to transpire.
Holland, T 2015. ‘Social networks as sites of e-participation in local government’, Global Media Journal Australian Edition, vol. 9 no 1 pp. 1-5
Omar, K, Stockdale, R and Scheepers, H. 2014. ‘Social Media Use in Local Government: An Australian Perspective. International Journal of Public Administration, vol. 37 no 10 pp. 666-675.
Shirky, C 2011. The political power of social media. Foreign affairs, vol. 90 no 1, pp.28-41.
Sniderman, Z 2011 ‘How Governments Are Using Social Media for Better & for Worse’, Mashable, viewed 18 March 2016 < http://mashable.com/2011/07/25/government-social-media/#PJo03ubAggq2>