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Social Media Changes Are Impacting Government Messaging

Government agencies are working to conform to a changing social media landscape these days, with Twitter’s rebranding to X — among other things — presenting challenges.

A smartphone showing the X app in the Apple Store. In the background behind the phone is the old Twitter logo in white on a light blue background.
Government agencies are working to conform to a changing social media landscape these days, with Twitter’s rebranding to X — among other things — presenting challenges. As such, governments that use that platform for emergency alert messaging must adapt.

One recent glaring modification to that platform that caught the attention of users was a restriction that barred non-Twitter account holders from viewing posts. This action resulted in X effectively limiting access to emergency alerts for individuals lacking an account. Previously, anyone could access tweets via search engines.

Mike Allende, the interactive engagement manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT), says their department has 13 X accounts for cities across the state — including the Seattle area, and another for Spokane, the biggest city in eastern Washington. The DOT uses its X account to share information about general traffic and weather issues, work zone locations, and other emergency roadside information.

While the Seattle DOT is very active on other social media platforms — with a robust network on sites such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Reddit — X is still a vital part of their strategy due to the sheer number of followers acquired there.

“Being able to provide this type of emergency information to citizens is a public service and it shouldn’t be beholden to them being on a particular platform,” Allende said.

In the wake of these concerns, X has in recent weeks reversed course, reinstating the ability for anyone to view tweets. This change unfolded just as discreetly as the initial alteration was made. But not before agencies began to lean into different strategies to continue to ensure that their communities received the safety information they needed.

With a following of over 300,000, the Arizona Department of Transportation has found alternate ways to ride the tide of changes that X throws in its direction.

“Our PIOs work closely with our dispatchers in a 24/7 staffed communications department to utilize a variety of tools to keep the public informed, including programming roadside overhead message boards that provide information when there’s a crash or an impending storm, and the usage of our AZ 511 alert app in addition to news releases and social media,” said Doug Pacey, the Arizona DOT’s assistant digital communications director.

The department has also created polls on X to uncover what their audience wants to see more of from DOT, ensuring that regardless of changes to the platform, they are meeting their community members where they are in terms of need.

“We asked them ‘What do you want from our Twitter account?’” Pacey said. “And what we were told is kind of what we expected — that people use the DOT Twitter account centrally, for real-time, often unplanned traffic events — so we know there’s still that need there and we work, regardless of changes, to meet that daily.”

With the Seattle DOT account being one of the most followed Departments of Transportation accounts in the country with over 350,000 followers, Allende has another concern that stems from new verification changes implemented by X.

“I’ve noticed an increase in negative responses being pushed to the forefront through the Twitter Blue verification change,” Allende said. “We get a lot more negativity from accounts that may not even be real or valid accounts, but because they paid for Twitter Blue verification, all of a sudden, their voices have been amplified over those that might truly have concerns about traffic or weather and we’re missing people we’re trying to reach.”

In the past, agencies underwent a stringent procedure to achieve a blue checkmark on Twitter, doing so through a process that was intended to instill confidence in users that the account was genuine and not fraudulent. The verification status elevates comments on posts to a prominent position within the commenting queue on X pages. With the shift to Twitter Blue, anyone can now attain verification by paying a subscription fee.

Amid these new changes, many are wondering what’s stopping government agencies from leaving X. The short answer? There are no better social media networks for what they have long used Twitter to accomplish.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Why don’t you just stop using Twitter and come over to Mastodon?’ But it’s not that simple,” Allende said. “With all the followers we have across Twitter, to simply stop using that platform just isn’t realistic and there is no good alternative. For smaller agencies, it might be easier to pick up and leave, but for us, it’s simply unfathomable.”
Ashley Silver is a staff writer for Government Technology. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Montevallo and a graduate degree in public relations from Kent State University. Silver is also a published author with a wide range of experience in editing, communications and public relations.