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Friending the Feds: Governmental Social Media Use in the Neoliberal Era
Baginski, James Daniel

2014, Doctor of Philosophy, Ohio State University, Geography.
Web 2.0 applications such as social networking sites and other types of social media have seen tremendous growth in popularity throughout the past decade. Facebook has become the world’s most popular social networking platform. First adopted by individuals and then the private sector, President Obama’s (2009) “Transparency and Open Government Memo”pushed for federal-level public sector adoption of privately-owned social media platforms as a way to push e-government forward and enable more direct interactions between government entities and citizens. This research examines the use of the social networking site Facebook by agencies of the United States federal government. The research is divided into two parts. First, data were collected from citizens who have interacted with five selected federal agencies through an online questionnaire survey. Demographic data reveal the existence of and even exacerbation of well-documented digital divides along lines of race/ethnicity, age, and educational attainment. Though touted as a way for individuals to interact more directly with the federal government, most respondents expressed frustration in the practice as their comments never elicited a response or other tangible outcome. This calls into question the degree to which governmental social media adoption has contributed to a more participatory form of government, as it tends to occur in a similarly one-directional, informational manner as previous e-government efforts. The second part of this research was through in-depth interviews with social media managers in federal agencies. Results of these interviews indicate a lack of clarity in the actual purpose of social media use at the federal level. Several notable challenges with public sector reliance on privately-owned and operated Web platforms were identified. Managers’ attempts to provide their audiences with as much information as possible are hindered by the underlying profit-seeking structure of social media platforms, such as Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm, which promotes a shallow form of engagement. The ease of use of Facebook for citizens in navigating to an agency’s Facebook page and offer an opinion or comment is, in a way counterproductive; due to federal-level official comment policies, public input through social media is not taken into account in decision-making processes. Thus, an obvious contradiction is apparent; on one hand, social media applications are celebrated as a way to increase direct interaction between citizens and federal agencies, but on the other hand, citizen comments through Facebook on rule-making issues cannot be considered. Finally, interviews revealed social media managers’ struggles with determining who their audience is, and also a lack of consideration given to the highly uneven nature of the Web and Internet usage. The final substantive chapter then broadens the focus to look at Web usage more generally, highlighting some key issues related to the Internet being both the product of and purveyor of neoliberalism. The focus of the chapter includes considerations of: access issues; self-branding; digital enclosures; marketing governmentality; surveillance, and the recent erosion of the Internet’s network neutrality principle.
Edward Malecki, Ph.D. (Advisor)
254 p.

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Baginski, J. (2014). Friending the Feds: Governmental Social Media Use in the Neoliberal Era. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from

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Baginski, James. "Friending the Feds: Governmental Social Media Use in the Neoliberal Era." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Ohio State University, 2014. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 23 Sep 2018.

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Baginski, James "Friending the Feds: Governmental Social Media Use in the Neoliberal Era." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Ohio State University, 2014.


Full text release has been delayed at the author's request until July 09, 2019