6.12: Local Governments, Social Media and Digital Democracy

"All politics is local," the former Speaker of the House, Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, Jr. famously remarked, suggesting that people are intensely interested in the political matters they believe directly affect themselves, their families, and their communities. It follows from O'Neill's statement that much of what is political locally involves the policies and actions of local governments.

To build greater political engagement among people, cities and towns across the country are using social media to bring the local government to the people. For example, on social media, some communities livestream mayor, council, and select board meetings, send online memes, greetings, messages, and reminders to local individuals and groups, respond to people's requests for information and services, promote programs and initiatives by city and town departments, and notify everyone about natural disasters, impending weather, and other emergencies (The Truth about Local Government and Social Media, CivicPlus, 2020).

Town of Amherst facebook post that says reminder indoor mask mandate takes effect on Wednesday 8/18 at 8am. Image that says hello, welcome back. we're so glad to see you. please be considerate of others to keep Amherst safe and healthy. Image of a person wearing a mask. Town of Amherst, MA Facebook post about a COVID-19 mask mandate (August 2021)

Social media has been hailed as a way to promote what has been called digital democracy (or e-democracy or e-government). In theory, online access will give everyone in a community opportunities to express their views and influence public policy. The record to date has been far less than that, as one researcher noted, "democratic institutions have witnessed no digital revolution through the Internet" (Bastick, 2017, p. 3).

Still, can technology revolutionize democracy? One starting point for considering this question is analyzing how your local government uses social media and how might it use it more effectively and democratically.

Activity: Review and Improve Your Local Town Government's Use of Social Media

Additional Resources

Connecting to the eBook

Building Democracy for All: Town Meetings, Open Meeting Laws, and Local School Board Elections

Connecting to the Standards