Citizen engagement and Social Media Policy Town Hall

While I agree with the principle of social media accreditation, what matters most is citizen engagement, a “two-way interaction between citizens and governments  that give citizens a stake in decision-making, with the objective of improving development outcomes.”

When the incoming Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar messaged me last June 12, 2016, he asked “I am looking at opening the malacanang press office to bloggers. You think they’ll be interested?” I do not speak for the bloggers so I told him , “I am interested”. I added that we faced challenges in the last administration much as they also wanted to accredit bloggers but I was told that the Malacanang Press Corps (MPC) had objections. I am glad the accreditation will be happening soon.

While I agree with the principle of accreditation, what matters most is citizen engagement, a “two-way interaction between citizens and governments  that give citizens a stake in decision-making, with the objective of improving development outcomes.”

Source: Citizen Engagement: History and Definitions by Mary McNeil, World Bank Group

Before I provide my reactions on the social media policy, let me stress the importance of citizen engagement.  As Jane Uymatiao cited in her post “Citizen Engagement: A mission possible?” , “The operative word: “two-way”. The feedback loop must go from top to bottom and back up. Government may provide information for citizens to act upon but if there is no process that allows feedback from the citizenry back up to government with that process looping over and over, then the engagement stays one-way.”

READ: The President and social media

It was during the monthly meetings with Secretary Andanar together with Blog watch and blogger friends, that a feedback mechanism was initiated. Secretary Andanar provided the updates about the PCOO,  followed by the bloggers providing feedback and finally moving forward to address our issues.  Much needs to be improved with this process.  I am hoping that aside from the accreditation, the PCOO  will continue and improve this feedback loop with the accredited social media publishers, bloggers and citizens.

READ: Citizen Engagement: A mission possible?

The first Social Media Policy Town hall is a step towards citizen engagement. Let me now proceed to the draft.

Source: Citizen Engagement: History and Definitions by Mary McNeil, World Bank Group

The working draft of the PCOO Social Media Policy

The purpose of this memorandum is as follows: to recognize social media as a form of public communication and one source of information; to provide guidelines on the use of social media by PCOO personnel; set rules on content management of PCOO offices; and establish a system for social media accreditation.

Draft PCOO Memo on Social Media Policy as of Feb 21, 2017 by on Scribd

Initial feedback on the PCOO social media policy

  1. Line 392-  it is not a matter of sharing press releases as part of our responsibility. Bloggers are independent minded and have the freedom of choice which press release to share or write about. Like I said earlier,  a feedback loop or two way engagement is more important.
  2. Line 357- In consonance with the prerogative of the PCOO Social Media Office to extend accreditation, it reserves the right to withdraw accreditation for violation of the terms of accreditation, the  PCOO Social Media Policy and pertinent laws and government regulations.
  3.  Line 402: What are these additional requirements for group blogs?
  4. Will the Social Media Policy become an administrative order?  Will it form part of the Freedom of Information Bill?
  5. I suggest a committee composed of the PCOO and stakeholders to finalize the draft.

READ: My thoughts on blogger accreditation

I also suggest that once there are accredited  social media publishers  , they may want to organize and draft their own  community guidelines including best practices. I recognize that bloggers have their own community but now that they belong to the PCOO-accredited social media publishers, this is another community.

Some reactions to the Social Media Policy from my community

I crowdsourced comments on the draft. Let me share a few of them:

  1. On line 284 : Section C on  Conduct of Citizens using PCOO Social Media Platform Number 3.  The term “inflammatory” was used. Was it supposed to mean “derogatory to anyone”? On the same guideline, there might be an instance where the language isn’t provocative but the underlying tone is such as to provoke someone/anyone. What could be the action for this? (Jay Agonoy)
  2. Line 359 on the part of the hyperlink, will it be possible to have a shortlink (like pcoo dot gov dot ph slash rules…)?
  3. Line 373: On accreditation, I have understood the benefit for both the Social Media User (SMU) and the Social Media Publisher (SMP), but I was unable to determine the responsibilities of the SMU aside from that they will be included in the communications regarding Laging Handa. ( Jay Agonoy)
  4. Line 404- How are we assured that legitimate bloggers will actually apply?
  5. Line 404- Our site supports anything that would somehow advance the cause of recognizing not just social media but as well as bloggers or the blogging community as legitimate media. But certain guidelines must be set. There are those who claim to be bloggers but really are not adept in using the platform to improving the bloggers’ statuses. Some bloggers or blog site owners have been notorious in using their sites to do irregular acts. Prior to accreditation there should be initial screening and all.
  6. Line 404 – It is not just about visibility, but credibility of the blogger. Background of the blogger, the kind of contents it provide for online readers.
  7. Line 36-37: “Government recognizes social media as the collective voice of the citizenry” I think it may be reworded some other way as I think it gives an impression that what can be found in social media is the collective voice of Filipinos. Although, it may be argued that a lot of Filipinos have begun accessing social media platforms such as Facebook as part of their regular routine, I think we may have to consider that despite the large number, it is not representative of the sentiments of Filipinos. I would agree, though, it is an accessible conduit for getting immediate feedback. (Tess Termulo)
  8. Line 45: “form of public communication and one source of information;” perhaps we can change “one source of information” to “a source of information”, as the former seems to imply that social media is a sole source of information. (Tess Termulo)
  9. Line 199: “Style Guide for the government” – what guide does this pertain to? (Tess Termulo)
  10. Line 231: What would be considered as “offensive”? (Tess Termulo)
  11. Line 234, 314: I do not think endorsement of private/commercial products or services should affect PCOO accreditation/representation, unless the government bloggers to be exclusively blogging only for the government. If this is so, then maybe there is no need for accreditation but rather, focus on just which blogs/bloggers can represent PCOO in an official capacity. I have read some of the references used in the draft of this policy (as indicated at the end of the document) and perhaps, what is also needed is to clearly outline the capacity by which bloggers can use a particular social media platform in an official/professional/personal capacity. Should bloggers create a separate blog for PCOO matters? (Tess Termulo)
  12. Line 302 Need to be more specific about what kind of sexual content or links to sexual content that are not allowed. Line 306 Emphasize that posting personal information, especially those of others, without explicit consent of the parties involved. (Tess Termulo)
  13. Line 412-413: “Applicant must not be involved in prosecuting any claim against the government.” I think the statement sounded a bit defensive and it would help if there are specific details to describe which claims the statement/requirement pertain to. Requirements should also include documents reflective of applicant’s background, criminal record, history of social media practice. Will PCOO have editorial capacity regarding content of all accredited blogs, or only of those bloggers considered to be representing PCOO in an official capacity? As I understand, there may actually be two groups of bloggers concerned in this SM policy: one group is that of bloggers accredited to cover particular events/activities of the government, and the other group is that of bloggers who are considered as officially representing PCOO. (Tess Termulo)

And a friend asks  “Will media who would not want to undergo accreditation be barred from covering palace events?”

While the draft is being finalized, the PCOO has to build a two-way communication process and a feedback loop on the ground and through its social media accounts. Rising expectations and an increasingly mobile population make it challenging to reach and engage the Filipino netizens.  That’s why a citizen-centric digital engagement strategy is vital to helping government organizations connect with its audience, provide critical information and services, and improve the lives of Filipino citizens.


This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)