The TSA's Tweeting, But Not All Agencies Feel So Social

Earlier this month, the Marine Corps pulled the plug on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. It said the sites were a potential security risk. Other government agencies are also figuring out what to do with Web 2.0. Several of them, like the Transportation Security Administration, now have their own Facebook fan pages and Youtube channels. Guest host David Greene talks with Mark Drapeau, who researches and writes about social networking at National Defense University.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

These days a lot of you have spent some time on Twitter tweeting away. I'm actually honored to have about 2,300 followers or so. But another Twitter account that I came across, I can't compete with it. It's the TSA Blog Team. That's right, the Transportation Security Administration. The agency even has its own YouTube channel.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Woman: Hello. At TSA, we know many of you often wonder why we have so many rules - rules that seem to slow down the security process just when you're in a hurry to get to your plane.

GREENE: And here to talk to us about what's going on with Government 2.0 is Mark Drapeau. He researchers and writes about social networking as a research fellow at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., and he joins us in the studio. Welcome.

Mr. MARK DRAPEAU (Research Fellow, National Defense University): Hi, thank you.

GREENE: So, Mark, what exactly is going on here? What are agencies like the TSA, as we just heard, trying to accomplish by getting on all these social networking sites?

Mr. DRAPEAU: Well, I think to some degree they're recognizing the fact that citizens are using all these social networking sites to have conversations with each other, and they want to be part of that conversation - actually reading what people are saying about them, reading about people's experiences, and then in some cases answering questions or following up with people that have had trouble at airports and so on.

GREENE: Is it worth it? I mean, are airplane passengers actually out there in large numbers using a video like this, and you know, going on reading the tweets that come out from out from the TSA?

Mr. DRAPEAU: Yes. I mean people are increasingly using mobile devices to interact with government agencies. And that is happening more and more in real time, actually.

GREENE: And I guess there is an important distinction to make. I mean the TSA has, you know, its own YouTube channel. But agencies are also dealing with the question of whether their people can have their own pages. And if we look at the military, the Marine Corps actually announced that it's banning social networking sites; their people can't use them. But other branches, like the Army, have just given a green light to people serving in the Army.

Why the different reaction? There's just no one good answer yet?

Mr. DRAPEAU: Well, there's a lot of debate about, frankly, the usefulness of these tools in day-to-day government missions for the average government employee, the average war fighter and such. And so there are two primary concerns related to security. One is that, you know, social networks like Facebook and various other Web 2.0 technologies get viruses and other bad things onto government computers.

The other concern, which is equally valid, is that government employees are putting more and more and more personal information out on the open Web, where it can easily be found and used perhaps in nefarious ways.

GREENE: And that actually came up recently with a woman name Colleen Graffy. Tell me who she is and...

Mr. DRAPEAU: Colleen Graffy was a relatively senior official at the end of the Bush administration, at the State Department, and her job was public diplomacy. And so in preparing to go on a world tour, and then while she was in the middle of this tour around Europe and other places, she was tweeting: I'm going to go into the, you know, the hot springs and relax for a while, or...

GREENE: Right.

Mr. DRAPEAU: ...I saw so-and-so at the hotel. Back in America, The Washington Post and other people writing...

GREENE: Reading all of her stuff.

Mr. DRAPEAU: Reading her tweets and writing columns criticizing it as a waste of time. And yet simultaneously reporters in Croatia would tell her when she showed up, we feel like we already know you. And...

GREENE: Which could be a good thing, especially if your job is public diplomacy.

Mr. DRAPEAU: Which could be a very good thing.

GREENE: Is it always useful? I mean what should the rule be as to whether you're an agency that needs to do this or should kind of not?

Mr. DRAPEAU: I think it's certainly not always useful. I think the most important thing is that it all starts off with a strategy. You need to have an overall goal of using this media in combination with other things you might be doing to communicate.

I'm a big advocate of doing small experiments. But it might perhaps be a better strategy to have some individual employees do personal experiments with Facebook, fan pages, or go to Web 2.0 conferences and learn about things rather than put up the official Colorado so-and-so Facebook fan page and then have it flop, because it may be the case sometimes that doing it bad is worse than not doing anything at all.

Mark Drapeau researches and writes about social networking. He's a research fellow at the National Defense University.

Thanks for dropping by.

Mr. DRAPEAU: Thank you.

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