That was quick. Five days after making the decision to block Facebook from legislative computers in the state of Maryland, the head of the assembly’s information technology office announced that he will reopen access to Facebook, likely by the end of the week.
Why the quick turnaround? The office ban of Facebook’s social networking site brought on protests from lawmakers, reports The Washington Post. The protesters expressed a strong enough need to utilize Facebook for work purposes, but it was a fear of spreading viruses that led Maryland’s General Assembly to block both Facebook and MySpace in the first place.
As a compromise, the Director of Information Services Mike Gaudiello has told the joint advisory committee on legislative data systems that spyware and malware protection software has been put in place in order to block viruses that could be spread through social networks. But MySpace wasn’t lucky enough to be put back in front of the firewall. Even though some protesters complained about losing access to MySpace, it was the noise made about the loss of access to Facebook that actually brought about action.
It’s because of the legislative office’s use of Facebook. It’s become necessary for nearly every political figure to have their own Facebook profile, in order to appear more transparent and accessible to the people, as well as to communicate with other state office employees across the country. Many lawmakers that protested Maryland’s decision to block Facebook stated that they use Facebook specifically to communicate with constituents about action in Annapolis.
Whether you find it comforting or disheartening to learn that state lawmakers are using Facebook for work, it’s become an unstoppable force at this point. Such actions could open a new can of worms for the legal system to deal with, considering many regulations for state employees (especially those involved in government authority positions) need to use approved methods of communication that can be tracked and archived. But having such high profile users like President Obama taking advantage of social networks like Facebook means that the effect has trickled down to other offices, and has become an acceptable, integral aspect of basic communication.
For this particular situation in Maryland, however, we’re just glad to see that the necessary anti-spyware software was put into place, as this is something offices should have on their employees computers. Social networks aren’t the only way to spread viruses, and taking the extreme measure to single out two social networks for this purpose seemed a bit on the melodramatic side.
Facebook sent out the following statement regarding the Maryland Facebook ban: “We’re honored by how vigorously the Senators, Delegates and staff of the Maryland General Assembly fought to maintain their access to Facebook. It is a clear validation that Facebook has become an important tool for government officials and agencies, enabling them to better communicate with and serve their constituents.”