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German Research Institute for Public Administration

Social media monitoring in public sector administration

Social media monitoring makes it possible to capture the articulated preferences of the population and to recognise typical behavioural patterns in order to derive potential for the development of public welfare. Technologies for the analysis of sentiment and algorithms for the evaluation of interaction in social networks are already far developed and in practical use in many cases. Thanks to their multi-functionality and algorithm control, monitoring tools, which are numerous on the market, promise to reap the harvest of constantly expanding data fields and to automatically separate the wheat from the chaff (see Martini, VerwArch. 3/2016, 310). They take advantage of the need for communication, but also of homo digitalis's inclination towards self-presentation. Private companies have already been engaged in social media monitoring for some time; public bodies are following with some time lag, but with increasing insistence. The public sector administration is making use of the possibilities available, especially for trend research and opinion polling, for optimising political strategy and, as a stethoscope, political crisis intervention. The security authorities are also interested in digital pools of data.

That the public sector administration is hesitant in using the performance portfolio of social media monitoring, also in an international comparison, can partly be explained by legal uncertainties resulting from the drawbacks of monitoring. Thus there is a risk of a digital 'control room' mentality - the full recording of the flow of information threatens to suffocate democratic self-realisation and the unselfconscious development of a digitalised society. 'Recognising the boundary beyond which the state is allowed to access the digital wealth of data openly accessible in social networks and to use this data as an instrument to support official decisions, without changing into a surveillance state, requires special sensitivity from the legislative and executive branches of government' (Martini, VerwArch. 3/2016, 310).

The research project explores these boundaries. It sees itself as a mixture of innovative basic research and application-oriented accompanying research for administrative and political practice. There are, admittedly, already some initial publications on the social media monitoring of private bodies. On the other hand, looking at public bodies - which are subject to a different regulatory regime - it can be seen that there is a complete lack of legal and administrative research on this subject in German-speaking countries. In an initial publication the research project clarifies the legal and technical fundamentals - the focus being on questions of constitutional law and data protection law (taking account of the new developments brought about by the EU-GDPR). As a second step the project will be concerned with concrete fields of application for political and administrative practice. It analyses possible deployment scenarios of social media monitoring and its (constitutional and) legal limits. In addition, it takes a close look at legal and political possibilities and necessities for shaping and organisation.

The researchers of the research project discussed the opportunities and limits of deploying social media monitoring with academics and practicians during the Future Congress 'State and Administration' on 21 June 2016 within the framework of a future workshop and presented some initial results of their research.

The programme area presented the first jurisprudential paper so far on the subject of 'Social Media Monitoring of Public Sector Administration' in July 2016.

  • Martini, Mario, Wie neugierig darf der Staat im Cyberspace sein? Social Media Monitoring öffentlicher Stellen - Chancen und Grenzen, VerwArch. 3/2016, S. 307-358.

Further publications

  • Martini, Mario, Angst vor einem digitalen Blockwart, FAZ vom 27.10.2016, S. 6. 

Note: The text on this home page is copyrighted. It is taken verbatim or based on Martini, "Digitalisierung als Herausforderung und Chance für Staat und Verwaltung" (Digitalisation as Challenge and Chance for State and Administration), FÖV Discussion Paper No. 85, 2016, in particular p. 50 ff.

Senior Fellow

Prof. Dr. Mario Martini

Prof. Dr. Mario Martini

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Researcher

David Wagner

David Wagner

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Researcher

Michael Kolain, Ass. iur.

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Researcher

Florian Ammerich

Dr. Florian Ammerich

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Duration

01.02.2016–31.12.2016