Who Cares for Identity Information in Government 2.0? An Empirical Study
in J. Bishop (ed.), Transforming Politics and Policy in the Information Age, Hershey, PA: IGI Global 2014, p. 238-260
Posted: 7 Jul 2013 Last revised: 16 Jul 2014
Date Written: April 1, 2013
Governments can use web 2.0 to facilitate and improve government-citizen interactions. A relevant policy question is how much and what kind of identity information is necessary for government 2.0 applications to thrive. Based on the literature, we hypothesise that identity information is a major factor in people’s willingness to participate in online applications, but that it is a double-edged sword. Having more identity knowledge of counter-parties will enhance people’s participation, but having to provide identity knowledge to counter-parties could diminish people’s participation in view of privacy risks. How do users – both citizens and officials – deal with this ostensible paradox? In this paper, we present the results of an empirical study on the effects of identity information on government-citizen interaction in government 2.0 applications. We triangulate findings from a survey among government 2.0 users and quantitative and qualitative analyses of Dutch government 2.0 websites. This reveals the identity information web 2.0 users want to have of other participants and are willing to provide about themselves, the importance of role information of civil servants, and the relationship of identity information with the interaction level on government 2.0 applications.
Our results show that, contrary to what the literature suggests, there is no significant correlation between identity information and interaction levels on government 2.0 discussion forums. Knowing more identity information about other participants does not lead to more interaction in government 2.0, nor does having to provide identity information of oneself inhibit citizens to participate. Apparently, people care less for identity information in government 2.0 than the literature seems to suggest, at least in terms of willingness to participate in online interactions. Furthermore, role specification – markers that show whether officials speak on behalf of the government or in a private capacity – is perceived as very important in government 2.0, yet it does not emerge as a real issue in practice. Indistinctness of roles does not impact negatively on the interaction in government 2.0, perhaps because participants can often identify from the context whether or not someone is speaking in an official capacity.
Our findings suggest that government 2.0 initiatives should be designed with a flexible and liberal approach to identity information. Having an option for users to provide a wide range of identity information (such as employer, profession, and a photo), while also allowing users to participate anonymously or on a first-name basis only, is a good way to cater for diverse user groups: those who find identity information important (both to know and to provide), and those who find identity information unimportant (to know and to provide).
Keywords: web 2.0, government 2.0, social media, identity, privacy, role information, Netherlands
JEL Classification: O38, D82, O33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation