Should Government Clean Up Its Twitter Feeds?

There could be implications for the public sector hiding in Twitter's new feed management features.

by / August 19, 2016
Twitter unveiled a new feature to clean up the user experience Aug. 18. But will the change mean more pressure for government social media managers, and what considerations does it raise for social media managers?
 
The newly released feature allows account-holders to activate a “quality filter” aimed at reducing post redundancy and providing more relevant and tailored content. 
 
Additionally users can now, or will soon be able to, change who they receive notifications from, according to a Twitter blog post.
 
The controls come just a month after Twitter trolls clashed with actress and comedian Leslie Jones over tweets stemming from a fake account. The situation resulted in Jones taking a temporary hiatus from her account (@Lesdoggg) and the suspension of Milo Yiannopoulos (@Nero), a technology editor at conservative news outlet Breitbart.
 
From the perspective of Lindsay Crudele, director of DotGov and dean of training at Media Cause, the new feature goes a long way to combat negative interactions with harsh critics, but isn’t a tool government officials or organizations should just jump into. It comes with potential ramifications.
 
“Twitter’s new quality and notification filter features are good news for anyone who has landed in the unfortunate focus of trolls, as Twitter has been at the center of pushback that their protections against abuse could be more stringent,” she said. “But filters shouldn’t be used by public-sector social media managers as a means to limit feedback.”
 
While cutting an abusive critic out of the mix might seem like a quick solution, it could unnecessarily complicate an organization’s online presence. Crudele advocates for organizations to “keep the doors open from any direction.” 
 
Limiting access without good cause, like threats or incivility, could spell the potential for more serious problems and potential legal issues, she warns.
 
“In this case, we’re seeing new features that have the potential to improve online life for individuals, but probably shouldn’t be adopted by the public sector. Without clarity into algorithmic limitation, social media managers risk losing access to relevant messages that didn’t make the cut, not just the best-packaged ones,” said Crudele, formerly the community and social technology strategist for the city of Boston. “The quality filter shouldn’t be used as a gateway to weeding out negative feedback, and deliberate exclusion of public conversations could spell legal complications.”
 
But perhaps more important than how the public sector regards these tools, is the policies behind organizations' overall use of social platforms. 
 
Knowing when and how to disengage while allowing constituents to have a voice in the conversation is critical to an inclusive social campaign and something that should be outlined in an enterprisewide policy.
 
“Before venturing into an external platform such as Twitter, public agencies should start with a solid social media policy that lays out their terms of engagement,” Crudele said. “The best caliber of constituent service will still be found by analyzing the broadest possible streams of social data and fostering an open, collaborative conversation to make sure that everyone has a voice — paired with a public, in-house policy that governs when it’s time to step back.” 
 
As for what the change might mean for content being distributed by government agencies, it is unclear whether or not it will have a large impact on what reaches and is dismissed by constituents. It does, perhaps, highlight the importance of crafting meaningful and engaging social content — a practice already embraced by agencies and public officials that are serious about growing an engaged audience.
Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as  assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.