The recent social and political trends have resulted in governments seeking to increase the transparency of their actions and services. The wide availability and capabilities of information and communication technologies are seen as an efficient method to promote such openness. Furthermore, it is a cost-effective and beneficial mechanism to control corruption. E-government and social media are prominent and comprehensive efforts that have been implemented in a number of municipalities and nations. Social media and internet resources adopted by administrations can be used to provide transparency about public services and the governance process.
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Transparency is a critical aspect of governance. It is an approach that has been widely used by administrations in order to advocate openness and reduced corruption. Government transparency as a whole has a wide variety of benefits. First, corruption becomes inherently risky and unfavorable. Public incentives can be used to oversee that any elected officials fulfill their duties ethically and in the best interest of the people. Honesty and efficiency are set as the core objectives which help to improve public services and create social trust. Transparency helps bridge socio-economic divides that are established through control. There are limited opportunities for certain groups or figures to obtain control of information spread or resource management. The concept is helpful in incentivizing cooperation and opportunism amongst government agencies and contractors (Bertot, Jaeger, & Grimes, 2012). Overall, transparency is critical to socio-economic development through the provision of services.
Transparency in government occurs in one of four ways. The government distributes information proactively. Specific materials are released upon request by interest parties. Public meetings are held for informative purposes. Finally, insider leaks occur through the release of information by whistleblowers. Administrations that focus on transparency will inherently produce and release larger volumes of information to the public. The concept of transparency is focused on maintaining honesty in the government through the principle that “good government must be seen to be done” (Bertot, Jaeger, & Grimes, 2010, p. 264). That is why more than 30 countries maintain anti-corruption agencies at the federal level. With the development of internet technologies, the challenges and expenses of information collection, storage, access, and distribution have been significantly lowered. It has led to widespread use of e-government to ensure this management of information as part of comprehensive efforts for transparency and accountability.
Electronic government is the “use of the Internet and other digital media to deliver government information and services to citizens” (Song & Lee, 2015, p. 431). It serves as a critical factor in establishing social trust in the government due to transparency. Furthermore, it directly impacts performance metrics such as productivity, enhanced decision-making, and accurate tracking of finances. Information distribution and transaction services conducted on a government website lead to specific variables of efficiency, responsiveness, accessibility, and satisfaction which create social trust. However, it is unclear how citizen perceptions affect the use of e-government by administrations in order to improve confidence in its citizens (Song & Lee, 2015).
Social media is an internet resource that has been designed for the central purpose of social interaction amongst its users. Social media may focus on or include one or more of the following web-based technologies and services such as wikis, blogs, media-sharing, collaborative editing, and social networking. This type of media is based on user-generated content created by the public and seeks to promote communication and interaction amongst its user base. Effectively, social media is based on the principle of many-to-many interaction and amateur content creation. Meanwhile, traditional media is a one-way interaction that consists of professionally developed content designed for a specific purpose (entertainment, distribution of information, or propaganda). The interaction scheme of social media fosters participation and creativity, allowing information to flow freely. Social media platforms are designed to include the user as a collaborator in the process. This translates to e-government functions that are attempting to achieve transparency, even if a social media presence is not its primary goal. Through various initiatives and collaboration, e-government processes can ensure collective monitoring of its activities by the public, thus achieving transparency and curbing corruption (Bergot et al., 2012).
On social media, its users in the form of citizens are inherently omnipresent and continuously active. This can be achieved by the accessibility of such platforms through various devices and a simple interface. As a result, it leads to rapid and up-to-date sharing of government information amongst users. Furthermore, administrations can establish channels of information distribution. It is important to note that as of 2014, almost 70% of Americans had an active social media account (Song & Lee, 2015). Therefore, as social media becomes more expansive and the central platform for information sharing, governments have to take advantage of these tools to increase transparency in their services.
The current age of social media has presented a significant opportunity for governments to form a new approach to interaction with citizens. Through a combination of social media, e-government, mobile technology there has been a potential to extend public services, enhance decision-making and problem solving, and obtain input as policy initiatives have been created to support transparency and citizen participation. Furthermore, social media creates value for governments by ensuring competitiveness, recruitment, access for disadvantaged groups, the creation of virtual communities, rapid information dissemination, and betterment of public safety. All levels of government, from local to federal can use social media for a large-scale approach to collaboration, openness, and establishing collective intelligence (Zheng & Zheng, 2014).
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The tools and possibilities provided by e-government technologies can significantly enhance policy development and service delivery through enrichment of government interaction with various stakeholders and betterment of information management. The transparency of the public sector is improved by using content on social media platforms to deliver the agenda to the citizens by providing updates and information on popular channels. The public service delivery is enhanced as well since innovative mechanisms can be used to boost provision similarly to private companies would share product design tasks with consumers (Bonsón, Torres, Royo, & Flores, 2012).
Additionally, there are opportunities for enhancement of the policy-making process. Social media and internet resources inherently lead to new forms and increased participation. This improves public engagement and overall social consciousness. The structure and popularity of social media platforms are conducive to community participation and consultation. Interaction with individuals and groups can facilitate collaboration and dialog. In turn, this causes increased interest in politics and citizen governance by including varied segments of the population in order to create identity, trust, and gain support for any public projects. Furthermore, these technologies aid in knowledge management that contributes to interagency cooperation. Context and content of specific social media groups can aid in developing relationships amongst public organizations and entities (Bonsón et al., 2012).
Challenges and Criticism
Technology has developed at such a rate, that its capabilities should not be an issue for this purpose. However, a significant barrier is access and technology literacy. Citizens must have the means and ability to access and utilize the various services and platforms which are offered online. Despite a broad adoption of mobile devices, a digital divide continues to be ubiquitous. Some challenges include usability, accessibility, and functionality. The design of any technology should be intuitive and adaptable, which is an issue with many outdated government resources. Accessibility services should be provided to people with disabilities and embedding content into adaptive technologies. Furthermore, the functionality should include features such as extensive searching, live-tracking, and other accountability aspects that citizens may want (Bergot et al., 2010).
Finally, a significant flaw of the use of the Internet and social media for transparency in cybersecurity. Sharing and transfer of digital information with external servers create vulnerabilities in the system. The use of social media by public officials could result in leakage of sensitive information or scandal. At a federal level, this may create a national security threat (Malhotra, 2015). Cybersecurity is a relevant threat in modern society, and this factor poses the dilemma of the cost of limitation of communication in exchange for transparency purposes.
It is evident that social media and e-government plays a tremendous role in providing transparency to government services and process. It helps to reduce corruption, distribute critical information, and invigorate citizen participation. These contribute to the improvement of public service efficiency and delivery. However, the course of integration for e-government requires further development and addressing some challenges to the concept.
Bertot, J. C., Jaeger, P. T., & Grimes, J. M. (2010). Using ICTs to create a culture of transparency: E-government and social media as openness and anti-corruption tools for societies. Government Information Quarterly, 27(3), 264-271. Web.
Bertot, J. C., Jaeger, P. T., & Grimes, J. M. (2012). Promoting transparency and accountability through ICTs, social media, and collaborative e‐government. Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy, 6(1), 78-91. Web.
Bonsón, E., Torres, L., Royo, S., & Flores, F. (2012). Local e-government 2.0: Social media and corporate transparency in municipalities. Government Information Quarterly, 29(2), 123-132. Web.
Malhotra, C. (2015). Role of social media in promoting transparency in an open government era in SAARC countries with special reference to India. Les Editions IMODEV, 1. Web.
Song, C., & Lee, J. (2015). Citizens’ use of social media in government, perceived transparency, and trust in government. Public Performance & Management Review, 39(2), 430-453. Web.
Zheng, L., & Zheng, T. (2014). Innovation through social media in the public sector: Information and interactions. Government Information Quarterly, 31. Web.