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Tweeting at a Federal Agency? The New ‘US Digital Registry’ Can Tell You for Sure

Diego Schtutman/Shutterstock.com

A new registry of verified government social media accounts could help the public beware of online digital doppelgängers and allow developers to create tailored applications that pull in data from thousands of official government social media accounts.

The U.S. Digital Registry aims to be the authoritative source for all official social media accounts used by federal agencies. The registry also lists official government mobile apps and mobile websites.

Besides authenticating government accounts, General Services Administration officials who worked on compiling the registry over the past year hope it can also help developers create new apps and widgets built on the data and content agencies produce every day across a plethora of social media accounts and other third-party sites.

GSA’s in-house SocialGov group announced the new public registry via third-party blog publisher Medium.

“It's easy for the government to verify the official status and accountability of a website . . . because you can see dot-gov and dot-mil at the end of it,” Justin Herman, GSA’s social media lead, told Nextgov in an interview. “When you're dealing with third-party sites, I mean most of them don't have even the little blue check mark” -- the signal used by Facebook and Twitter to denote so-called verified accounts.

Herman said his team met with representatives from both Facebook and Twitter in Washington on Thursday to discuss how the companies can use the new registry during their own verification processes.

GSA has also had initial conversations with researchers, data analysts and other companies about how they can use the data in the registry via application programming interfaces to create new services built on government data shared on social media and other third-party sites.

"We're able to now build out services that take the technological bureaucracy out of the equation and also takes the bureaucratic silos out of the equation and allows people to get that information as they need it,” Herman said.

What would that look like in practice? Here’s an example from Herman’s Medium post:

“Let’s say you want to create a new Emergency Broadcast System for the digital age that delivers only authentic, official disaster relief information regardless of what agency or sub-agency it comes from without having to hunt across platforms — in the Spanish language?”

Done, Herman said, with the new registry and an enterprising developer to build such a service.

There’s also a cybersecurity component to the roster, Herman added, citing the frequent phishing scams in which fraudsters try to glean information from Internet users by posing as government officials.

“People can ensure the fact that when they're asking questions about their federal student loans or their veterans health benefits, that the people that they're engaging with are the [Department of Veterans Affairs] and it is Federal Student Aid and not, let's say, a malicious body who might be interested in collecting personally identifiable information from them or to post as a government agency and get them to buy a service or pay for something that is unnecessary,” Herman said.

Agency social media managers are currently adding accounts and account details to the registry during what GSA is calling a “verification sprint,” which is expected to wrap up by the end of the month. By then, GSA expects to see some 6,000 accounts listed in the registry.

(Image via /Shutterstock.com)

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