A new platform under the U.S. General Services Administration’s SocialGov program is offering federal agencies a safer way to use social media, and granting them access to a wealth of information and resources.

The U.S. Digital Registry was announced Jan. 29 as a one-stop shop for the social networking needs of government departments who are actively engaged on such platforms as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Unlike official government websites that end with .gov or .mil, profiles created through third-party platforms can often look deceptively authentic, but are used to mislead the public and steal personal information.

Justin Herman, SocialGov program lead with GSA, said the registry will allow agencies a level of verification not found in the run of the mill Twitter and Facebook verifications.

“No platform has conclusively verified all public service accounts: Some have, in the past, only verified accounts they deem popular, or once wider verification occurred lacked an authoritative source for all official accounts -- until now,” he said via email. “We are in active collaboration with Facebook, Twitter and others on how the U.S. Digital Registry will help them improve their public service verifications. We encourage and challenge all developers to use the API from the registry to create a new level of trusted, authenticated public service information.”

Get Verified

The types of social media accounts that the U.S. Digital Registry will verify are:

//  Facebook

//  Flickr

//  Github

//  Google+

//  IdeaScale

//  Instagram

//  LinkedIn

//  Pinterest

//  Scribd

//  Slideshare

//  Socrata

//  Storify

//  Tumblr

//  Twitter

//  Uservoice

//  Ustream

//  YouTube

Whether we like it or not, faulty accounts have and will likely continue to claim they represent one official government agency or another, and will continue to post without concern for the greater public good like the prankster in Peoria, Ill., who established an account for the mayor against his wishes.

For an agency like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which handles sensitive information as part of its daily duties, an impersonated account could easily spell disaster for misguided social media users.

“Social media in the public sector carries unique standards in order to promote its effective use while maintaining the privacy of citizens and access for all. Managers not only have to focus on performance analysis, but also compliance with rules like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Records Act and the Privacy Act,” Herman said. “Ultimately, though, these standards don’t hold us back, but make our programs stronger and more valuable for the citizens who need them.”

Through a collaborative effort across a wide range of departments and more than 1,100 federal managers, the SocialGov program is involved in a “verification sprint” to authenticate as many accounts as possible by March 31.

“The U.S. Digital Registry is designed for all official accounts, across bureaucratic barriers, technology platforms and languages,” he said. “Users of the U.S. Digital Registry must authenticate themselves using Max.gov before adding or archiving accounts created within guidelines published in agency social media policies.”

Official third-party sites and mobile apps may also be verified.

As for what local and state government can do along the same lines, Herman suggests that departments use the registry’s open source code to build their own digital registries.

“Use the open source code of the U.S. Digital Registry to build state and local versions," he said, "so we can integrate our digital public services."

Eyragon Eidam  |  Staff Writer

Eyragon Eidam is the assistant news editor for Government Technology magazine, and covers legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.