The General Services Administration announced yesterday that it has signed a terms of service agreement with the social networking web site Facebook. The agency also announced agreements with the web publishing site Blist, Powerpoint slide sharing site Slideshare and AddThis, a bookmarking and sharing platform. The agreements will allow federal agencies and their employees to use of the popular social media applications without violating federal regulations
Since last year, a coalition of agencies led by GSA has been negotiating agreements with each new media provider that can work across government. Other federal agencies can now choose to sign the same agreement if it meets their needs because it resolves the legal concerns found in many standard terms and conditions that pose problems for federal agencies, such as liability, endorsements, advertising, freedom of information and governing law.
"We are working at a fevered pace to improve the public's experience when engaging with the government," says Martha Dorris, acting associate administrator, Office of Citizen Services and Communications. "USA.gov is breaking new ground by migrating to new media sites to provide a presence and to open up a dialog with the public. We know that many other agencies want to do the same, and having these agreements is an important first step."
To date, GSA has signed agreements with Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Blist, Slideshare, AddThis and blip.tv, and is in discussions with many other providers that offer free new media services.
This is good news for federal agencies. Facebook alone boasts more than 200 million users and has rapidly become the most influential social networking site on the Internet. With the agreement on terms of service, agencies should be able to post their own pages, disseminate news and recruit followers and future employees using the service. Many agencies (such as the Commerce Department) already have a presence on the site, but those are largely the efforts of individual employees or agencies choosing to strike out without the approval of higher authorities. Yesterday's agreement means we could soon be seeing federal sound bites clogging our news feed.