In an ideal world, governance and social media go hand-in-hand. The Philippine government, starting with the newly-installed administration of President Benigno Aquino III, has embraced social media as a means of extending services to its constituents, particularly by feeding vital information on security, disasters and something as commonplace as traffic.
We earlier reported on the Philippines government being involved in a controversy relating to Facebook in the aim of better control of information. However, we can still give the government some benefit, given the use of social media tools to help disseminate information and to gather feedback from the public.
For instance, the Metro Manila Development Authority has been running its Twitter service for the past four months, and has recently announced that they are now running it 24/7. Dubbed MMDA Tweets, the service provides up to date traffic information on major thoroughfares in the country's capital, including links to photographs and maps. The MMDA also handles flood control in the metropolis, and shares vital information that residents might find useful in the event of floods, which are commonplace in this area troubled by an ages-old water drainage system.
Meanwhile, other services that the Philippine government is showcasing include those of the police force, the education department and the health department. The Philippine National Police already runs its own Twitter account, which gives tips on safety, security and crime prevention. The Department of Education feeds advisories on class suspensions, which are important during inclement weather. The Department of Health, meanwhile, feeds health-related advisories, such as disease outbreaks, medical missions and the like.
Engaging the Constituency
The Philippine government's social media channels are known to engage its constituency actively, particularly that of the MMDA. Given that the notorious Metro Manila traffic is a concern that professionals, students and even ordinary workers have to contend with everyday, motorists are encouraged to send tips and traffic advisories via hashtag or via Twitter mentions. Mobile penetration rate in the country is at a significant 93%, and mobile Twitter access counts toward a big part of contributions to the MMDA's Twitter feed.
The use of social media tools is nothing new to the Philippine government, though. When the incumbent president took office, the official government page www.gov.ph was converted from a services portal into an official gazette run on WordPress. Still, the gazette lacks the interactivity of a regular blog, as most (if not all) of its posts do not allow commenting. It can be argued that Aquino's Facebook page serves as a surrogate for this social interactivity. With a reach of about 1.6 million fans, though, this might hardly represent the country's 90-plus million population.
Governance and Information Management
Information management is a key aspect of governance. The challenge here is finding the right tools for engaging one's constituency, and finding the right levels of engagement. For things as mundane and everyday as traffic, seeking public participation through Twitter feeds can be an effective way of managing information. When it comes to policy-oriented matters, though, government operators might find it a bit more difficult to manage the flow of information, given dissenting opinions and strong voices from all sides.