The State of Social Media: New York City Government

by: Christopher Miller

Not everyone understands social media or agrees with its capabilities. At first, the Internet was developed as a one-way medium for information. In this day and age, the Internet has evolved into an interactive revolution. Through tweets, wikis, podcasts, and various other social media the audience speaks back and there is open-data available through the share of information.

screenshot of The Daily Pothole

Previous changes to the way people communicate online, such as email, allow a person to communicate to several others, yet social media today allows a person to communicate anywhere connectivity exists. The powerful tool of social media allows every person the ability to be an author, an inventor of ideas, a commentator, and a contributor to the greater sphere of knowledge and human achievement.

The fundamental principle of “City as a Platform” is rooted in the New York City digital media presence.  In this day and age, the virtual realm is growing rapidly for the better. Digital technology has helped build a stronger relationship between NYC citizens and the NYC government. Platforms such as NYC.gov, Facebook, Twitter, and Mobile Apps expand the resources of information available to the public by making them more accessible and intuitive to the general public.

This citizen centric relationship is multi-directional, facilitating collaborative problem solving across sectors. Furthermore, social media has evolved in a way to allow NYC citizens’ roles to shift from merely consumption to co-production. Ultimately, the main goal is to democratize access to information via social media, which will contribute to further decentralization of the NYC government.

A strong relationship between the government and its people is essential for a democracy to run smoothly. We, as citizens, must hold our city officials accountable and be properly informed about what the government is doing. The proper means of communication is essential for this relationship to work. For example, here are a few ways social media has helped create a two-way street between the New York City Government and its citizens:

  • Broadcaster is an app that geotags your exact location and acts as a tour guide, playing audio tours, speeches, and historic information.
  • The #AskMike conversation campaign allows citizens to address questions via Twitter to Mayor Bloomberg.
  • Quora.com allows the NYC government to address questions to the citizens. For example questions such as, “What are your ideas for technology to conserve electricity in NYC?,” engage citizens for their ideas and representation.
  • 311 IPhone App helps to lessen the burden on call centers by using online mobile tools. For example, if you see a pothole and call in a complaint it may be hard to explain exactly the type of pothole and the location. The 311 app allows IPhone users to take a picture of the pothole and geotag the exact location very simply. This creates a simple and efficient interaction that involves no long calls with annoying operators and time-consuming voice-recorded questions.
  • The Department of Transportation has also launched a Tumblr account, called The Daily Pothole, which is a map of the city showing where the problems are and the status on their repair. Consequently, this makes the location of the problems radically transparent, which holds the government accountable. It shows proof of the enormous amount of work the government is actually doing. For instance, 315,000 potholes were fixed in NYC in the past year alone.