What Would You Do?

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This topic contains 9 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Robert Eckhardt 8 years, 7 months ago.

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  • #147403

    This past summer, an incident took place on GovLoop. At the request of the GovLooper who felt wronged, we’re asking the GovLoop community for feedback. Your responses will help shape how we handle similar situations in the future.

    Here’s the story:

    • A private citizen posts several videos to YouTube from a public government website.
    • He embeds the videos in a blog post praising the government’s work, and publishes the post on GovLoop (where we feature it).
    • An employee at the given government department (who knows the blogger and is an active GovLooper) asks us to delete the post.
    • We delete the post.
    • We ask the employee to notify the blogger.

    First things first: the first time the blogger heard about any of this was in an e-mail from the government employee, in which no GovLoop employee was cc’d. That was wrong, and we apologize to the blogger. We shouldn’t have deleted the post without asking for his side of the story beforehand or directly providing an explanation ourselves afterward.

    Now here’s where things get interesting. The employee says her boss was unhappy that the blogger didn’t ask anyone to post the videos to YouTube. She says her department has struggled to get permission to post to YouTube, and feared that someone in the front office would see that the videos had been posted by someone outside the department, thus killing the department’s social media momentum. Having been in government and thus understanding how precarious this scenario was, I agreed.

    Here’s the blogger’s view:

    I think this decision is short-sighted and heavy-handed.

    It’s short-sighted because the videos already were public; I merely uploaded them to YouTube. If an agency doesn’t want its content to be “shared beyond [its] official site,” as you say, there are ways to ensure that—at the very least, say so, or don’t make the videos downloadable. The home page of [the government department]—where the only way to watch the videos is to download them—doesn’t do any of this.

    I also included attribution in the video description.

    The decision is heavy-handed because the videos were deleted simply because a supervisor was unhappy. Seriously? That’s all it takes—the whims of a nameless official?

    While this isn’t the end of the world, I’m mystified and saddened. Do you honestly think this decision hinders or fosters the trust and transparency and collaboration that is the cornerstone of the Gov 2.0 movement?

    Here’s our view, based on an email I sent the blogger:

    Our primary goal is to protect public servants on GovLoop and make them feel as if it’s a safe space to collaborate and share content. We simply must default to responding quickly to concerns about information sharing and err on the side of caution in meeting the requests of government members. Especially in this situation, consider their position: they have worked extremely hard to even be able to post on YouTube. That’s no small feat for some agencies. They don’t want anything to ruin their chances of doing more of that and achieving overall culture change—an eventual default to openness. By responding quickly now, we strengthen their ability to make the case for ongoing transparency…which helps the movement more than if we “make a stand” in favor of someone who has posted agency content in a way that makes the agency uncomfortable…even if we know that someone (you!) and trust them implicitly (which is the case here).

    So what do you think?

    Did GovLoop do the right thing?

    How should we react in situations like this?

    Got any advice for the department with regard to how it responded?

  • #147421

    Robert Eckhardt

    I am with the blogger on this. If the videos were procured from the gov employee and then posted I am all in favor of pulling them. OTOH the videos were pulled from the department web site which makes them fair game. I think that asking the blogger to remove the videos would be okay.

    The issue is that deleting the post does nothing for removing the videos from public viewing. If the issue is, as stated by the department guy, that public posting of the videos might hinder SMN efforts then pulling the post doesn’t kill the videos on YouTube; it doesn’t even necessarily kill the blog as most bloggers publish here and elsewhere.

    It seems that all that was really accomplished was that a blogger was annoyed and a gov department, which has seemingly little grasp on the power of internet publishing was placated.

  • #147419

    Jim Bunch

    This seems to be similar to pictures and other material that are in Government Reports or Websites. As I understand it, posting the material on a Government website does not imply that it automatically falls within the public domain. In fact, usually the rights do not transfer regardless of whether they came from a Federally funded project or not. Simply because they are on a government website does not make them “fair game”.

    Therefore, simply because a video is available on a Government Website for download does not give anyone who downloads it the right to redistribute it or transfer ownership rights in any way. When the Blogger uploaded it to YouTube they had to state that they owned the material and had rights to redistribute it, which is clearly not the case. Therefore, the Agency could have easily also requested that the videos be removed from YouTube. Did they?

    So, in my mind the blogger should have simply posted the link to the website so any interested reader could also have gone and downloaded the video in question. This also allows the reader to see the explanation and context that the Agency provided in order to explain the videos for themselves. This is often very important and simply posting and viewing a video out of context can be very misleading.


  • #147417

    Steve Radick

    I think it’s safe to say that a majority of GovLoopers can be considered “change agents,” in one fashion or another. We’re all here because we learn from one another, we empathize with each other, and we help one another. GovLoop isn’t just a website, it’s a living, breathing, community of people (at least that’s how I see it). And anytime you get that many people involved and interacting with one another, you’re going to happen upon disagreements similar to this, and in some cases, even more divisive. It happens. People are messy and hard to figure out. That’s why I think this issue is less about who was right or who was wrong, and more about how do we use this as an opportunity. I would take this opportunity to remind everyone of one of Wikipedia’s core guidelines -“Don’t Bite the Newcomer,” which has become a core tenet of a lot of online communities. In essence, rather than taking a stand for yourself or for what you believe in, you instead consider the community as a whole and figure out how to help move the entire community ahead.

    That’s where I’m coming from – not simply as a user of the GovLoop site, but as a member of the GovLoop community and as someone who has served as a community manager in other situations.

    Having said all that, I agree with the blogger AND of GovLoop’s. I’m a staunch supporter of all things free speech and agree that videos shouldn’t have been deleted just because some manager might have potentially not approved.If I’m looking at this in a vacuum, I agree with the blogger.

    However, I don’t believe that’s the reason they were removed. GovLoop doesn’t operate like the FCC where if a small group of people complain about something, they’re going to regulate and ban it. I think GovLoop was operating in the best interest of the entire community in removing the post. This is where I agree with GovLoop. While making the stand might have been “right,” they would have also risked winning the battle, but losing the war, inadvertently driving said agency away from social media altogether. The only thing I would have done differently is that I would have liked to see GovLoop and the blogger use this as a teaching opportunity with the government employee and his/her boss. For example, when my firm was reluctant to get on Google+, I sent our POCs the story about Bank of America getting brandjacked, and that resulted in a conversation where they ultimately decided to set one up to avoid that very thing happening to them. I think GovLoop, the blogger, and the government employee should have had that discussion to figure out how to turn this from a potential negative to a net positive.

    Taking a “who’s right/ who’s wrong” tone here is the wrong question – we should instead be asking, how we can use this situation to help the government employee advance open government at her agency?

  • #147415

    Jim Bunch

    Good reply. I was focusing more on the Agency and the Blogger’s actions and not on What Gov Loop did. In general, I believe that reposting in YouTube content that has been downloaded from other sites without notifying them is a practice that should be frowned upon, since IMHO it is all to easy to take it out of context and subvert or change the original intent of the material. Recommended practice should be posting the links to the downloaded material. Embedding is a second choice since people at least people have the option of going to the source.

    If anything, it should teach all that unilateral actions without pre-notification or agreement when using or changing others content is not the best way to go. There are often very valid reasons for restrictions of others re-use of website content, be they quotations, pictures, or videos varying from legal rights to policy issues. For example, the agency may have obtained permission to share content on its site, but not distribute it for other uses. It would be advisable that they agency clearly think ahead and figure out their position on what can and can’t be shared and clearly post it somewhere on its site. This would at least avoid future confusion.

  • #147413

    Joe Flood

    The blogger is right – the “boss” doesn’t understand what publicly-available means. The videos are already online and I’m assuming in the public domain, since they’ve been paid for by taxpayer money. They should be shared as widely as possible. The boss doesn’t own the videos, they’re owned by the public. He or she doesn’t have the right to limit where they’re available. Only in government would seeing your message widely distributed be viewed as a problem!

  • #147411

    Robert Bacal

    This situation suggests a lot of questions, but govloop (and YouTube) as organizations can do pretty much as they like, being as it’s private property.

    Clearly, there’s the issue of copyright/ownership, and I’ve heard suggestions both ways, that government “stuff” is in the public domain, and that it’s not. If it’s the latter, then posting is copyright infringement.

    But there’s tons more here. If it is copyright infringement, who actually has the formal authority in government to have it removed? That’s actually one of those thorny and ignored issues regarding ALL government participation online, because government staff enter in to contractual arrangements with third parties, without having the authority to do so.

    Generally, I’m with Jim on the specific issue.

    And, on an ethical level, which may or may not have legal force, and from an intellectual property creator, the fact that something appears somewhere in a public area does NOT automatically mean that others can do with it what they will. It seems that’s the more common view these days, and it’s counter to the spirit and purpose of copyright laws.

    As an example (one I’ve used before), if the person who posted the videos posted them instead, on a raft of p*rn sites, or on extremist sites of various stripes, identifying it as coming from a specific agency, is that OK? Can you imagine the political outcry, not to mention public outrage at the “public money” being used to spread videos on terrorist or p*rn sites?

  • #147409

    Alice M. Fisher

    I like Steve’s response to this overall. “The only thing I would have done differently is that I would have liked to see GovLoop and the blogger use this as a teaching opportunity with the government employee and his/her boss. “

    This is a great question all around on many levels.

    1. First you have an external social site and a Federal agency dynamics.
    2. Then you have the boss vs. employee dynmaics
    3. Then have a policy question for each entity,
    4. Then a personal vs professional behavioral question and
    5. Ultimately a communication policy question for both sides

    My personal unprofessional opinion is: Publically published content created for public consumption that was created with tax payer dollars should be allowed as it already went through some official vetting and approval processes to be online, right? And, if there were no disparaging comments, slander, or malicious intent toward or about a public official or public figure then is the content not publically consumable and useable?

    One could do the Google test and search for it? If you can find it on Google, is it not public?

    Conversely, there are a multitude of Federal, State agencies all with differing social media policies which no one single person can memorize and act upon in same standardized way, given that everything continues to change from a technical standpoint as well as with each individual agency. That would be hard from an external perspecitive.

    1) But, if the agency is known, one could look up said the agency social media policy and discuss said issue with the agency CIO.

    2) There is a great read by the CIO.gov site http://www.cio.gov/Documents/Guidelines_for_Secure_Use_Social_Media_v01-0.pdf

    3) If a similar problem takes place, I suggest reviewing Ning.com’s social media policy and also going through the proper channels through the said agency CIO.

    4) Consider from the Federal standpoint, what is their AUP and the agency CIO policy for the agency?

    Social media use is a two way street, but we must always respect each agencies policies, where ever applicable.

    Determining what the risk of the posting is to the agency is also important.

    Re: Policy Controls

    (Re posted from the link above: Guidelines for Secure Use of Social Media by Federal Departments and Agencies (Page 12)

    representation, commitments on behalf of Government, and security recommendations from this document.)

    Social media presents a new set of tools for interactive dialog. However, users may make themselves vulnerable by trusting circles of friends and colleagues and disclosing personal facts more readily. Additionally the same phishing, social engineering, and Web 1.0 threats (worms, trojans, etc.) may be used to exploit a friend’s trust.

    The safe use of social media is fundamentally a behavioral issue, not a technology issue.

    Policy addressing behavior associated with protecting data would likely cover current social media technologies as well as future technologies. Policies for Web 2.0 technologies, blogs, wikis, social media sites, mash-ups, cloud computing, Web 3.0, outsourced e-mail, and other new technologies will remain extensible and applicable. A policy specific to Web 2.0 or social media might be too narrowly focused; rather, procedures should be used to address the “how” question to help mitigate specific risks and provide specific solutions.

    The risk of using social media tools should be addressed by policies and procedures focusing on information confidentiality, integrity and availability, and user behavior, both personal and professional, when accessing data or distributing information. Federal agencies should follow the guidelines below.


    The senior technology official at each federal agency should develop a social media communications strategy, with the support of their communication office, that accurately addresses the guidelines in this document in conjunction with government-wide policy[5].


    Follow NIST Special Publication 800-39 risk management principles[25]. . Follow NIST Special Publication 800-53R3 controls, especially those for external information systems (AC-20)[26].


    Follow NIST FIPS Publication 199 to categorize information posted on social media websites and guide application of SP800-53R3 and SP800-60. For example, data posted to the public, the security categorization should be NA for Confidentiality (all public information) and no greater than LOW impact for Integrity and Availability[27].


    Follow the NIST Special Publication 800-60 categorization of the information based on the mission-based information type and intended use of the new technology[28]. Social media websites may be used for different purposes, such as outreach to the public, communication among a community of interest, or collaboration within a select group of individuals. Each scenario calls for different risk management scenarios.


    Update current policies for privacy and security in accordance with recommendations adopted from this document, including technical controls and user training.


    Update current policies for content filtering and monitoring to address functional areas of system administration and user behavior, including limiting specific activities or traffic disallowed, such as the addition of third party applications.


    Update current Acceptable Use Policies (AUP) to cover user behavior for new media technologies. User behavior includes personal use of government equipment and professional use of internal facing, public facing, and external resources. A complete AUP should address a wide array of issues, including password reuse, department

    Alice M. Fisher, Unlimited PR & Associates, LLC

  • #147407

    Wow. A case of dysfunction gone completely awry. Yes I meant to write it that way.

    You can’t buy this kind of great PR – organic adoring credible word-of-mouth kudos from a non-sponsored citizen of the blogosphere. And this beautiful creation turns into a nightmare where the blogger is totally POed and thinks badly of the agency. That alone is a “loss of social media momentum” – major sigh.

    That said I completely and totally understand the dilemma that the agency employee was in. And I also understand the dilemma that GovLoop was in. So I am like Gilligan on Gilligan’s Island, agreeing with the Captain and the Professor at the same time.

    What I would say is that in the future, GovLoop might wish to post a disclaimer somewhere that says – “Hey folks you know how sensitive agencies are about social media – from time to time we might have to pull a post off the site. But it’s nothing personal and please don’t be annoyed. We’re part of the incremental revolution here.” Or something like that.

    In this particular situation an employee of GL might have contacted the blogger directly to run interference and say, this employee’s job is probably on the line, can you post this somewhere else where we don’t have a say-so? Then wait and see what the blogger said.

    I can definitely see what Robert is saying about the issue of control and respect – just because you post something doesn’t give nasty people the right to co-opt it and harm you. But social media is a different kind of world with different kind of rules and the community will keep you honest. You just have to speak up respectfully.

    For example, from time to time I see that people lift my blog posts and put them on their website intact. I have a disclaimer on my blog (if it hasn’t disappeared) that gives people permission to do that, as long as they say I’m the author. One person was taking my blogs but my name wasn’t appearing. That got me upset until I realized it was something to do with the blog template and when you clicked on the link on the header, it took you to the source, with my name. I asked a few times and eventually they fixed the template (I don’t know if that has anything to do with me).

    Other people aren’t as nice. What can you do – you’ve put the content out there.

    Alice brings up the fact that there are so many dynamics going on, how do you navigate them. Answer: skillfully and diplomatically. This calls for telephone calls and talk.

    Finally I think a lot of people are unclear about what is and is not considered public domain – content, photo, video, etc. It would be great if a subject matter expert could post something that clarifies this for the rest of us.

    GovLoop is an invaluable resource for this very reason – out of problems come actual solutions!

  • #147405

    Jim Bunch

    Great comments Dannielle and Robert. I, for one, would really appreciate a good explanation on what is automatically public domain versus private (without explicit statements by the authors/owners making it so). I look forward to the discussion.

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