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To Inform or to Interact, that is the question: The role of Freedom of Information

To Inform or to Interact, that is the question: The role of Freedom of Information

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Published by Mathias Klang
Klang, M. & Nolin, J. (2011) To Inform or to Interact, that is the question: The role of Freedom of Information. Social Media Policies, Information Science and Social Media – International Conference August 24-26, Åbo/Turku, Finland.
Klang, M. & Nolin, J. (2011) To Inform or to Interact, that is the question: The role of Freedom of Information. Social Media Policies, Information Science and Social Media – International Conference August 24-26, Åbo/Turku, Finland.

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Published by: Mathias Klang on Sep 16, 2011
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Klang,M.&Nolin,J.(2011)ToInformortoInteract,thatisthequestion:TheroleofFreedomofInformation.SocialMediaPolicies,InformationScienceandSocialMedia–InternationalConferenceAugust24-26,Åbo/Turku,Finland.
1
ToInformortoInteract,thatisthequestion:TheroleofFreedomofInformationinSocialMediaPolicies
MathiasKlang&JanNolin
Introduction
TheconceptofFreedomofInformation(Balkin2004,Lamble2002,Solove2002)hasbeenraisedtoafundamentalgoodthatpermeatesallaspectsofmoderndemocraticsocieties.Thegoalofthispaperistoexploretheroleofthisprincipleinrelationtolocalauthoritiesattemptstoincreasecitizenparticipationviaincreasedlevelsofsocialmediausage.Wearguethatsocialmediapolicyworkraisesaconflictvis-à-vistheestablishednormsofFreedomofInformationandtheideologicalunderpinningsofthetechnologyinuse.OuranalysisbuildsonaSwedishcasestudyandillustratestheconflictbetweencitizen-governmentinteractionviasocialmediatechnologiesandtheestablishednormsofFreedomofInformation.
FreedomofInformation
WhenChydenius(Lamble2002)inthe18
th
centuryproposedhisradicalvisionofFreedomofInformation(
offentlighetsprincipen
orFoI)hewasarguingforanunheardoflevelofopennessandtransparencyingovernment.HearguedthatFoIwouldproducestabilityandpredictabilityingovernmentastheactsofpoliticiansandpublicservantscouldbeobservedandtraced.Increasedaccountabilityleadstoincreasedcontrol.HisargumentscanbeseentobeFoucauldian(Bentham1995,Foucault1979)innatureastheyfocusontheindividuals’interestininternalizingtheirownsupervision.TheFoItakesdifferentformsinsociety.Ingeneraltheprinciplerefers,firstandforemostto,publicaccesstoofficialdocuments.However,italsoincludesotherformssuchaswhistleblowingbyofficials,courtpublicity,thepublicityofdecision-makingmeetings,etc.Thisprinciplehasbeensuccessfulandbeenimplementedinmanydemocraticstates.However,theearliestandmostradicalformshavebeenestablishedinSwedenandFinland(Lamble2002).Additionally,SwedenandFinlandhavebeenearlyadoptersofinformationtechnologies.Therefore,itisvaluabletolookatSwedishandFinnishimplementationsandadaptationsoftechnologyandadministrativepractices.TheconceptspresentedbyChydeniuswereputintopracticeinSweden(andFinland).SincethentheseruleshavebecomegeneralprinciplesofSwedishconstitutionallaw.TherighttoinspectpublicdocumentswasfirstintroducedinSwedenthroughtheFreedomofthePressActof1766.OnewayoflookingatthesuccessoftheconceptofFoIisthewayinwhichtheprinciplehasbeenadopted(ofteninmodifiedform)inmanycountriesaroundtheworld,upuntilthepointwheretodayitisgenerallyseenasafundamentalcornerstoneofdemocracy.Thefundamentalinformationinfrastructure(Hanseth1996,Pironti2006)inthe18
th
,19
th
andmuchofthe20
th
centuryhasbeenanaloguepaperbasedinformationsystems.ThereforetheprincipleofFoIwasproposed,implemented,maturedanddevelopedwithinasophisticated,analogue,paperbasedsystem.
 
Klang,M.&Nolin,J.(2011)ToInformortoInteract,thatisthequestion:TheroleofFreedomofInformation.SocialMediaPolicies,InformationScienceandSocialMedia–InternationalConferenceAugust24-26,Åbo/Turku,Finland.
2Thisledtoacommandandcontrolstructurewheretheauthorityisinvolvedinamonologuewithitscitizens.Fromthepointofviewofefficiencythepaper-basedinformationinfrastructurewaseminentlysuitedforconversiontoadigitallybasednetworkstructure.Thereforecomputerswereeasilyadaptedtofitintotheadministrativesphere.ThisimplementationprovidedthefirstfundamentalideologicalchallengetotheFoIprincipleasbasicconceptssuchasdocument,file,signature,documentcreationandrevisionneededtobere-interpreted.InrecognitionofthesetechnologicaldevelopmentsFoIhasbeenre-interpretedindifferentinternationalcontexts.InSwedentwoimportantchangeshavebeenmadetotheFoI.In1974,freedomofaccesstopublicdocumentswasdeemedtoapplytocomputersystemsandin1976theprinciplewasdeemedtoapplyevenwhenthedatawasnotstoredasdocuments.FromthepointofviewofFoIthefocusshiftedfromtheinformationbearer(thedocument)tothecontent.
TechnologyandState
Governmentdependsfundamentallyupontheapprovalofthepopulationitissettogovern(Dahl1989,Harrison1993,Pateman1970,Sartori1987).Thereforeademocracyisaformofgovernmentwherepoliciesaredirectlyorindirectlydecideduponbythewillofthemajorityofthepopulation.Thiswillisexpressedbytheparticipationofcitizensinthedemocraticprocess.Asaformofgovernment,thissystembuildsupontwoassumptions(i)thatpeoplearecapableofunderstanding,expressingandfindingsolutionsfortheirproblems,and(ii)effectivesolutionsrequiretheparticipationofthepeoplewhowillbeaffectedbythem,withoutnecessarilybeingdependentonauthoritiesandexperts(Oppenheimer1971).However,participationhasmajorlogisticalchallenges(Dahl1989,Pateman1970)asthecommunicationsinfrastructuresrequiredforlarge-scaleparticipationhavenotalwaysbeeninavailable.Democraticparticipationshouldbeunderstoodasacompromisebetweentheoreticalpossibilitieswithintechnologicalrealities.Therefore,itisofgreatinterestwhensocietiesbegintoovercomethetechnologicallimitationsandthetheoreticalideologiesfallintotherealmofthepossible.Thetechnologyitselfisnotinherentlydemocraticbutmaybeimplementedtosupportparticipatoryprocesses.
E-governmentorE-democracy
Governmentanddemocracyareattimesinterchangeabletermsbuttheyshouldnotbeconfused.Forthepurposeofthisworkelectronicgovernment(e-government)referstothestatesgoaltomakeitsprocessesmoreefficient.Incontrast,electronicdemocracy(e-democracy)isnotaboutstreamliningoreconomizingthestatebyalternativeformsofcommunication.Itisaboutempoweringtheuserinherabilitytodirectlyparticipateinthegeneraldemocraticprocess(Kahn&Kellner2004).Thusfarthemainthrustoftechnologicalimplementationhasfocusedontheprocessesofe-governmentwhiletheprocessesofelectronicdemocracy(e-
 
Klang,M.&Nolin,J.(2011)ToInformortoInteract,thatisthequestion:TheroleofFreedomofInformation.SocialMediaPolicies,InformationScienceandSocialMedia–InternationalConferenceAugust24-26,Åbo/Turku,Finland.
3democracy)havenotbeenequallyimplemented.Thismindsethasalsobeenpossibletodiscerninmanysocialmediapolicies.Thisisanaspectthatwewillreturntoinourdiscussionofourempiricalmaterial.
Frominformationtointeraction
Inthelastdecadesadvancesanddisseminationofcommunicationstechnologyhavebothenabled,andcreatedademandfor,publicaccesstopublicinformationviatheInternet.Withinthepublicsectortheconflictingneedsoftheauthoritiestoprovideserviceandprotectcertainformsofinformation(forexamplepersonaldata)havespurredaneedforreinterpretingestablishednorms.Eventhoughdigitaldocumentationisthenorm,thereis,inthecaseofSweden,nocorrespondingrequirementforgovernmentbodiestoprovideaccessindigitalformat(SOU2010).Thecommunicationsinfrastructureofsocialmediadoesnotfitwellintoahierarchicalcommunicationmodelandassuchdoesnotreinforcetheroleofthepositionoftheauthority.Socialmediaisbaseduponhighlevelsofsocialinteractionbetweenthoseinvolvedandmaybelikenedtoadialogueratherthanamonolog.Inaddition,socialmediahaslessbuilt-insystematiccontrolsbut,rather,allowsalltheparticipatingpartiestochoosebothtopicandformsofdialog(Honeycutt&Herring2009,Huberman
etal 
2009).Animportantfeatureofthisnovelcommunicationstructureisthelayersoflegalandtechnologicalcontrol(Winner1985),whichlieslargelyoutsidethecontrolofthegovernmentalauthoritiesandthecitizens.Thelegalandtechnologicalbasisfortheuseofsocialmediaisinthehandsoftheplatformowners.PhysicalcontroloftheplatformsdependonserverslocatedoutsideSwedishbordersandaccesstotheirinformationanduseareregulatedbylicensingagreementscontrolledbytheplatformownersandregulatedunderthelawsofthecountriesoftheircorporatedomicile.Theseconditionspresentparticularproblemsforformalisticregulationandcontrolbythemunicipalitiesandcitizensasusersoftheinformationinfrastructure.OnecouldaskiftheFoIactuallycouldfacilitatetheinformationgatheringactivitiesofmulti-nationalcorporations?
EmpiricalStudy
Swedenisdividedinto290municipalitieswithpopulationsrangingbetween2,460–847,073.
1
Eachmunicipalityisresponsibleforsocialservices,careofelderlyandhandicapped,childcareandschools,planningandzoning,environmentandhealthprotection,publiccleaningandgarbagemanagement,firebrigade,waterandwaste,orderandsecurity.Inadditiontotheseareasthemunicipalitymayalsoplayanactivepartinrecreationalactivities,culture(butnotlibraries),housing,energy,businessandreceptionofrefugees.Tobetterunderstandthemunicipalitiesattemptstousesocialmediaasaplatformforincreasedopennessandcitizeninteractionthispaperanalyzes
1
StatisticsSweden,“Populationstatistics”athttp://www.scb.se/,accessed15March2011.

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