The Social Layer of Freedom of Information Law

42 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2012 Last revised: 27 Aug 2014

See all articles by David S. Levine

David S. Levine

Elon University School of Law; Stanford University - Center for Internet and Society

Date Written: February 29, 2012


It is now received wisdom that a properly functioning democracy requires transparency and accountability — information shared with the public that allows the public to know what its government is doing. It is equally uncontroversial to say that social media allows for an unprecedented amount of informal but structured dissemination and analysis of information. Despite these two basic points, U.S. freedom of information law has failed to harness the power of these new social media networks and, more importantly, formats in a way that amplifies public knowledge of government information. Because of that harsh reality, a modern transparent democracy is impeded.

This Article argues that, from a theoretical perspective, governments should reorient their thinking about social media to focus on its indirect value as an information formatting construct rather than as purely a direct tool for distributing information. Once social media’s impact on freedom of information is properly understood, it follows that governments should provide information in structured and useful formats that are socially optimized to best meet the public’s analytical needs so that the social layer of government information can flourish. From a practical perspective and to meet this theoretical imperative, FOIA can be modestly amended to allow for the public’s development and exploitation of the social layer of government information.

Keywords: freedom of information, social media, transparency, accountability, FOIA, bailout

Suggested Citation

Levine, David S., The Social Layer of Freedom of Information Law (February 29, 2012). North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 90, p. 101, 2012, Available at SSRN:

David S. Levine (Contact Author)

Elon University School of Law ( email )

201 N. Greene Street
Greensboro, NC 27401
United States


Stanford University - Center for Internet and Society ( email )

Palo Alto, CA 94305-8610
United States


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