Should the White House Be a Place for Friends?

07 Mag Should the White House Be a Place for Friends?

New York Times, By Robert Mackey, May 4, 2009

Last week, President Obama extended his use of social media sites, a trademark feature of his campaign, into the White House, setting up on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. The president, of course, has had an official blog, and he has been posting White House video on YouTube and other video sites. The administration says its use of these social networks represents part of its effort to make government more open and accountable. Indeed, the General Services Administration has established special deals with a group of social media sites meant to allow any federal agency to join the conversation. Some privacy advocates see dark clouds in this purported move toward sunshine. But can the president’s visit to MySpace be any worse than reaching out to the wired generation in a form of Photo Op 2.0? There are some real questions about how the government will deal with the personal information it will get access to about people who befriend it online, questions that so far the White House and G.S.A. don’t have full answers to.  The privacy advocates’ biggest concern is that most social networks treat a government agency no differently than a former roommate. People might friend the White House on MySpace, for example, to indicate support for the president or to get messages about what the administration is doing. In doing so, however, they are agreeing that every party photo, love poem, and wisecrack from a friends that appears on their profiles will be visible to White House Web masters. And so far there are no guidelines that say whether those Webmasters might keep copies of any of personal information they see or send it to the government officials who could use it to get authorization to audit people’s taxes, keep them from boarding an airplane, tap their telephones or even arrest them.