White House to Agencies: Don't Rely on Online Comments, Rankings

Lora Bentley

The Obama Administration has been all about open government and increased transparency since before the president took office, so it really should come as no surprise that as of Wednesday, most federal agencies can pretty much use social-networking services and online forums carte blanche.


Under new guidelines released this week, the online activities of federal agencies are now considered "public meetings." The change, according to ReadWriteWeb's Abraham Hyatt, " gives agencies much more freedom to blog, hold virtual meetings or even run contests."


However, that freedom comes with a very prudent caveat, and it's one we should all take to heart, really -- no matter what line of work we're in. From the memo itself:

Because, in general, the results of online rankings, ratings, and tagging (e.g., number of votes or top rank) are not statistically generalizable, they should not be used as the basis for policy or planning. Moreover, agency use and dissemination of the information produced by by rankings, ratings, and tagging must comply with applicable Information Quality Act guidelines.

In other words, don't change policy or rearrange agency priorities based solely on user comments, ranking or tagging.


Given that there's no way to really know what is motivating comments, the advice seems like common sense. For instance, do they really feel that way or are they just trying to rile other users into heated debate for the sport? Sure, there are those who will want to add value to the discussion, but there also may be those who want to throw a wrench in the works to see how much trouble they can cause.


We can't afford to let the latter folks distract us from our goals, whether we're doing business or running a country.

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