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http://ssrn.com/abstract=1702501
 
 

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Rulemaking in 140 Characters or Less: Social Networking and Public Participation in Rulemaking


Cynthia R. Farina


Cornell Law School

Mary Newhart


Cornell Law School

Paul Miller


Cornell Law School

Claire Cardie


Cornell University - Computing and Information Science

Dan Cosley


Cornell University - Computing and Information Science

Rebecca Vernon


Cornell Law School

November 3, 2010

Pace Law Review, January 2011
Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 010-011

Abstract:     
Rulemaking - the process by which administrative agencies make new regulations - has long been a target for e-government efforts. The process is now one of the most important ways the federal government makes public policy. Moreover, transparency and participation rights are already part of its legal structure. The first generation of federal e-rulemaking involved putting the conventional process online by creating an e-docket of rulemaking materials and allowing online submission of public comments. Now the Obama Administration is urging agencies to embark on the second generation of technology-assisted rulemaking, by bringing social media into the process.

In this article we describe the initial results of a pilot Rulemaking 2.0 system, Regulation Room, with particular emphasis on its social networking and other Web 2.0 elements. (A companion article, Rulemaking 2.0, gives a more general overview of the project and is forthcoming in Miami Law Review). Web 2.0 technologies and methods seem well suited to overcoming one of the principal barriers to broader, better public participation in rulemaking: unawareness that a rulemaking of interest is going on. We talk here about the successes and obstacles to social-media based outreach in the first two rulemakings offered on Regulation Room. Our experience confirms the power of viral information spreading on the Web, but also warns that outcomes can be shaped by circumstances difficult, if not impossible, for the outreach effort to control.

There are two additional substantial barriers to broader, better public participation in rulemaking: ignorance of the rulemaking process, and the information overload of voluminous and complex rulemaking materials. Social media are less obviously suited to lowering these barriers. We describe here the design elements and human intervention strategies being used in Regulation Room, with some success, to overcome process ignorance and information overload. However, it is important to recognize that the paradigmatic Web 2.0 user experience involves behaviors fundamentally at odds with the goals of such strategies. One of these is the ubiquitousness of voting (through rating, ranking, and recommending) as "participation" online. Another is what Web guru Jacok Neilsen calls the ruthlessness of users in moving rapidly through web sites, skimming rather than carefully reading content and impatiently seeking something to do quickly before they move on. Neither of these behaviors well serves those who would participate effectively in rulemaking. For this reason, Rulemaking 2.0 systems must be consciously engaged in culture creation, a challenging undertaking that requires simultaneously using, and fighting, the methods and expectations of the Web.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 45

Keywords: Administrative Law, Cyberspace Law, Legal Information and Technology, Risk Regulation & Policy

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Date posted: November 5, 2010 ; Last revised: August 10, 2014

Suggested Citation

Farina, Cynthia R. and Newhart, Mary and Miller, Paul and Cardie, Claire and Cosley, Dan and Vernon, Rebecca, Rulemaking in 140 Characters or Less: Social Networking and Public Participation in Rulemaking (November 3, 2010). Pace Law Review, January 2011; Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 010-011. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1702501

Contact Information

Cynthia R. Farina (Contact Author)
Cornell Law School ( email )
524 College Ave
Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
607-225-5879 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)
Mary Newhart
Cornell Law School ( email )
524 College Ave
Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
Paul Miller
Cornell Law School ( email )
524 College Ave
Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
Claire Cardie
Cornell University - Computing and Information Science ( email )
Ithaca, NY
United States
Dan Cosley
Cornell University - Computing and Information Science ( email )
Ithaca, NY
United States
Rebecca Vernon
Cornell Law School ( email )
524 College Ave
Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
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