Notice & Comment

RegBlog@5 Series and Herz on Federal Agencies as Social Media Entrepreneurs (AdLaw Bridge Series)

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, RegBlog is celebrating its fifth birthday with a special series looking back on the last five years in regulation. This RegBlog@5 Series has been a lot of fun so far, and it epitomizes RegBlog’s ability to help bridge the gap between theory and practice in the regulatory state. Definitely go check out all of the posts in the series here. For instance, my co-blogger Peter Conti-Brown has a great post on stress tests and banking regulation/supervision. Susan Rose-Ackerman has a fun read on corruption and government. And Rick Hasen has an important essay on campaign finance deregulation. I also contributed a piece on the Supreme Court’s treatment ofChevron deference over the last few years.

In this AdLaw Bridge Series post, however, I want to focus on Michael Herz’s terrific essay that went live today: We Are All Publicists Now. This essay explores federal agencies’ growing use of social media as a tool for governance and regulation. The whole essay is worth a read, but here are a couple snippets:

There are currently an estimated 10,000 federal government social media accounts across dozens of different platforms. (For an impressive array from just a single agency, see the list on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) social media page.) For all the theorizing about social media as a dialogic network, fostering feedback and engagement by customers and citizens, agencies overwhelmingly rely on these platforms to push rather than to pull, to get their “story” out there. In other words, these platforms are the tools of modern government public relations.

Agencies will continue to refine their social media presence to convince the public of the value of the agencies’ work. These efforts may be indispensable measures to inform the public and so ensure a functioning democracy. Or they may be pathological artifacts of the permanent campaign, distracting at best and deceptive at worst. Whichever they are, the last five years have shown that the old issues—agency expertise, discretion, and democratic deficit—are now inextricably bound up with use of the new technologies.

Professor Herz focuses on the EPA’s clunky social media campaign centered on the rulemaking to define “waters of the United States,” but there are many other good and bad examples of agencies using social media. (FWIW, my favorite agency social media account is the U.S. Department of Interior’s Twitter account, which regularly posts amazing pictures of national parks and other beautiful pictures of nature and life in America.)

It will be interesting to take stock again on federal agencies and social media in another five years, when agencies have likely grown from social media entrepreneurs to established brands.

[Update: I should have noted in this post that the Administrative Conference of the United States(ACUS) has commissioned a project entitled Agency Information Dissemination in the Internet Era, and the ACUS report on the project, by Nathan Cortez, is available here.]


This post is part of the Administrative Law Bridge Series, which highlights terrific scholarship in administrative law and regulation to help bridge the gap between theory and practice in the regulatory state. The Series is further explained here, and all posts in the Series can be found here.



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