Accountability by access: civile servants move onto Facebook

According to the World Bank’s noteworthy PSD Blog a senior official in the Kanpur district, in Northern India, has ordered his highest ranking subordinates to create personal Facebook profiles “at the earliest”, and associate them with the page of the district’s administration.

The idea is that officials, being more accessible to citizens, feel them breathing down their neck, and therefore be prompted to respond quickly to suggestions, complaints or applause (“Citizens are going to like this, as they will be able to track their complaints”)

I like the intuition: it’s in line with what I wrote in my book Wikicrazia, particularly in the chapters on “transparency” and “speaking in a human voice”. In the actual decision there remain a few kinks to iron out: one of them is that my Facebook profile is mine, not my employer’s, public authority or not. Maybe this problem could be addressed creating multiple accounts, or using platforms where users have a much better control on what they share with whom, like Diaspora.

What I find most interesting, however, is that the Kanpur district administration initiative stands for the idea that the more transparency, the better. Which, after all, is the opinion I thought was common ground to more or less all of us, until the Wikileaks affaire kicked in and several commentators (including authoritative ones, like Shirky) started making the statement (in my opinion without proving it) that government need secrecy by default to be able to function. Who is right? At a first glance, between Ms. Clinton’s Department of State and the Kanpur district administration, the latter seems more in sync in the times. We, the people, had to rethink privacy at the times of the Internet: it seems logical that public authorities rethink secrecy as well. Frankly, I don’t see that many alternatives: Wikileaks and entities like it are here to stay, like it or not.

Note: I have not been able to find the Facebook page in question – but I am in China, and Internet access is not always straightforward, so I try to stay away from long Google searches. Should a reader find it and point me to it, I would be grateful to her or him.

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