Voices in the cloud: social media and trust in Canadian and US local governments

Date19 March 2018
Publication Date19 March 2018
AuthorLois Evans,Patricia Franks,Hsuanwei Michelle Chen
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Information management & governance
Voices in the cloud: social media
and trust in Canadian and
US local governments
Lois Evans
School of Library, Archival and Information Studies,
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, and
Patricia Franks and Hsuanwei Michelle Chen
Department of Information Science, San Jose State University,
San Jose, California, USA
Purpose This study aims to examinehow 20 local governments in Canada and the USA operationalize the
governmentcitizen trust relationship through the administration of social media by answering two
questions: Can localgovernments use social media to increase citizen trust?and if local governments can use
social media,what can be learned about the administration of social mediathat results in an increase in citizen
trust of government?
Design/methodology/approach Based on a normative belief that increasing the trustworthiness of
governmentis a desired outcome, the working propositionis that social media may offer a low-barrier method
for engaging citizensand supporting trust-based relationships, if social media programsare administered in a
way that operationalizes this objective. Using content analysis of data collected from interview transcripts
and documentary sources,this exploratory, process-oriented study emphasizesthe social, organizational and
functionalcontexts of social media and social media as records.
Findings The study found that most cities had extensive programs featuring multiple accounts on a
number of common platforms. The cities maintained tight control over content, account creation and
employee and audienceparticipation to ensure compliance with federaland provincial or state legislation and
to mitigate technology and content-based risks. The cities used social media to broadcast information,
respond to service requestsand provide issue management. Social media results were measuredsporadically
on an ad hoc basis for operational purposes and only two cities had dedicated procedures in place for
managing social media as records. Contrary to previous research, this study indicates that duciary trust
relationshipsdo require trust by the agent (i.e. institution) and the principal (i.e.citizen).
Research limitations/implications To increase generalizability, an effortwas made to select cities
that were demographicallyand geographically diverse by selectinga range of population sizes and locations.
However, selection was skewed towards cities with well-developed social media programs, and as a result,
over half of the citieswere national, provincial or state capitals or larger populationcentres. While these cities
experienced economic advantages,the participants in the study identied challenges around resourcingand
capacity, and their responses are expected to be of value to cities operating under similar constraints.
Additionally, this studyrepresents a point in time, as social media use at the local governments continued to
expand and evolveduring and after the data collection period.
Practical implications This paper identies three scenarios where social media content from local
government accountsshould be managed as records, including: the documentation of incidents, the on-going
This project was realized through the support of the SSHRC-funded InterPARES Trust project based
at the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia. The
authors also thank the graduate research assistants at San Jose State University and the University of
British Columbia who contributed to this project.
Received7 November 2016
Revised31 December 2016
Accepted24 February 2017
RecordsManagement Journal
Vol.28 No. 1, 2018
pp. 18-46
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/RMJ-11-2016-0041
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
collection of city contentfrom high-prole accounts and the on demandcollection of citizenscontentwhere
cities have askedfor citizen input on topics or issues.
Social implications This study provides an in-depth characterization of social media administration
and use by 20 local governments in Canada and the USA. Considering the progress made by cities in
e-government using their websites as a base, cities can develop greater capacity for open government,
meaning wider participationby citizens in the decisions that affect them on a daily basis. To achieve goals of
transparency, accountabilityand civic participation, cities will need to develop capacityaround social media
measurement,reporting and procedures for managing social media as records.
Originality/value In providing a detailedand complete description of social media use in 20 citiesin two
countries, this study moves beyond a compliance-and requirement-driven approach to consider the larger
questionof governmentcitizen trust and the relevanceof records within this relationship.
Keywords Canada, United States of America, Government, Electronic records management
Paper type Research paper
In May 2013, Edward Snowdens disclosure of classied documents revealed several
government surveillanceprograms, including those of the US National Security Agency and
the Communications Security Establishment of Canada. The following year, governments
experienced the largest decline in trust of any institution as measured by the Edelman
Trust. The most signicant drops in trust were in the USA,France and Hong Kong, where
levels fell below 50 per cent. The level of trust in governmentrose slightly over the next two
years, to 39 and 53 per cent in the USA and Canada, respectively. This rise was largely
attributed to the increase in the level of trust among the informed public, which increased
from 48 to 51 per cent, compared to the general public, among whom the level of trust
increased from 41 per cent in 2015 to 42 per cent in 2016. In fact, the difference in the trust
rating between the informedpublic and the general population increasedfrom 7 to 9 per cent
over the two-year period, suggesting the importance of information to the government
citizen trust relationship(Edelman Borlund,2014, 2016).
Signicantly, the USA (in 2011) and Canada (in 2012) joined the Open Government
Partnership (OGP) and signed the Open Government Declaration prior to Snowdens
disclosure. The Declaration acknowledges that people all around the world are demanding
more openness in government, and charges governments with increasing information
availability, civic participation,standards of integrity and access, through new technologies
to government (Open GovernmentPartnership, 2011). In joining the OGP, countries commit
to producing national action plans for open government. The USthird plan, published in
2015 (i.e. post Snowden), seeks to promote the principles of transparency, openness,
accountabilityand improved and more efcient public servicesin seven areas:
(1) access to information;
(2) public participation;
(3) government integrity;
(4) scal transparency;
(5) justice and law enforcement;
(6) open government at the subnational level; and
(7) open government in support of global sustainable development (The White House, 2015).
In the plan, subnationalinitiatives encompass state, tribal and local governments and
expressly focus onopen data for local community use, including:
Canadian and
US local

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