The Associated Press headline sounded ominous: “Michigan government accounts block hundreds on Twitter.”
After a lawsuit was filed against the Trump Administration for blocking Twitter users, the Lansing State Journal decided to look at government accounts in its home state. It found that state agencies had blocked accounts.
A few paragraphs into the story, there was this line that pointed directly at the state DOT:
“Records show that while some government accounts didn’t block anyone, the dozen accounts associated with the Michigan Department of Transportation blocked a combined 550 individual Twitter handles.”
The Michigan DOT is like many other state departments of transportation in that it has fully embraced social media as a place to share information with the people and businesses that use the state’s transportation system. But the natural assumption is that government is open to all, so the thought of blocking accounts on Twitter and other social media is sure to raise concerns.
The Michigan DOT chose to use the very media in question to clarify its policies and practices and to invite the public to ask questions.
In a lengthy 561-word Facebook post, Michigan DOT addressed the article directly and offered this opening:
“The bottom line is that MDOT has no problem receiving criticism from the public and, when necessary, will provide information if such criticism is unfounded or based on incomplete information. However, if the criticism is valid, we will acknowledge that fact and act on it. If you’ve followed us for any amount of time, you’ll know that we handle more than our fair share of criticism and don’t shy away from it. We’ll gladly meet it head on and address it – that’s the whole reason why we have such a robust social media presence.”
It was a bold approach. Instead of waiting, head down, for the news to blow over, Michigan DOT was telling its audiences the truth – engagement is messy. Relationships are messy. Engagement and relationships via social media is even harder.
Attention spans are short. Information retention is limited. Conveying deeper context is truly challenging. Indeed, social media rely on cliched emoticons to help convey second level messages and a strange language of “LOLs” and “IDKs” because typing messages on mobile devices are THAT difficult.
Michigan DOT’s opening was refreshing. But its explanation for why it had blocked accounts at all was outstanding.
“For MDOT’s part, the vast majority of accounts mentioned that were blocked by MDOT occurred 5-6 years ago due to violations of Twitter’s terms of service and the State of Michigan’s (SOM) own social media community guidelines, including spam, phishing links tweeted, pornography, multiple accounts by one person or group, or being hacked accounts trying to engage MDOT …”
It went on to say that in eight years, Michigan DOT had developed 12 different Twitter accounts with 121,000 followers, blocking 550 accounts.
The public response was overwhelmingly positive with 157 likes and a robust collection of comments from various followers. The Twitter note directing Michigan DOT followers to the Facebook posting also had two retweets.
Here’s one Facebook comment:
“I’m just saying, if you said something bad enough to get blocked by a government social media account, you probably deserved it. Just my opinion. I’ve read some of the things some people commented on your posts and it’s vulgar and uncalled for. The amount of keyboard tough guys that resort to name calling and fake facts is just staggering.”
Here’s another example:
“No doubt a Thankless job. But ill thank MDOT for responding to me in the past. I disagree with the waste in government but someone has to report the news. Thx again. Send check to; lol. Thx”
The final word on the matter came mid-afternoon on the day of the AP story from a Michigan DOT Facebook follower:
“Thank you for your transparency and candid response!”
In the age of social media and government accountability, that’s a good day.