Justin Herman, who heads up the social media initiative within the GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, said “We’re moving into a world in which social media is the charge that fuels the circuit of collaborative public service.”
The United States federal government has finally made it. That’s right, it’s now on Yelp. As part of the General Services Administration’s (GSA) DigitalGov initiative, people will be able to review their experiences with federal agencies just like restaurants and laundromats. The online review leader has added a Public Services and Government section to its web site. Yelp announced on Tuesday that it had reached a terms of service agreement with the federal government to allow agencies to set up and respond to feedback on their own web pages. Currently, the newly-launched section contains thousands of reviews that have already been written about tourist destinations and federal buildings like historic post offices and courthouses. The GSA, as part of the initiative however, is hoping the sites will provide agencies that frequently interact with the public like the TSA and IRS with useful and necessary feedback.
Justin Herman, who heads up the social media initiative within the GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, said “We’re moving into a world in which social media is the charge that fuels the circuit of collaborative public service.” In a statement following the rollout, the GSA wrote, “Adding customer satisfaction ratings and reviews to public services just got easier now that Yelp offers a terms of service for official government use.” In order to maintain a perception of impartiality, the government sections will not contain advertisements on the web pages. On its official blog, Yelp wrote “As this agreement is fully implemented in the weeks and months ahead, we’re excited to help the federal government more directly interact with and respond to the needs of citizens and to further empower the millions of Americans who use Yelp every day.” Each agency will be able to choose whether or not to adopt a pre-existing Yelp page for its site, or create its own site from scratch.
While the rollout has certainly created some degree of increased transparency between citizens and the federal government, there are critics who believe that the initiative is window-dressing, or possibly worse, political. It is true that Yelp’s reputation has taken a hit in recent times due to allegations of rating-rigging. While the company has denied the allegations, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 last year that the company had the right to charge for advertising, likely leading to more favorable reviews. Gizmodo writer Kate Knibbs notes that government workers could easily do what many companies do with Yelp and other online reviewers; write their own fake reviews to balance out customers’ negative ratings. While it is questionable whether or not the government would employ those tactics, presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina, or her campaign team, has already turned the rollout political by reviewing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), giving it a “1-star” rating, the lowest.
Consumerist – Mary Beth Quirk
Gizmodo – Kate Knibbs
The Hill – Mario Trujillo
Washington Post (blog) – Lisa Rein