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Social Media and Participatory Democracy

Public Notice and the World Wide Web

Shannon Martin E.

Public notices are usually provided in the form of a document when something is about to be done or recently has been done by government. For about two hundred years these notices have often taken the form of legal notices placed as classified ads in newspapers.
With the onset of social media, government as well as personal information can be accessed at a push of a button for all to see. This book addresses the kinds of changes that public notice and published public records have experienced as governments around the world try to accommodate the digital formats for information and World Wide Web publishing, as well as presenting historical and legal underpinnings for the broader claim of a public requirement to be informed about government.
While there is concern that government information on the web will fall pray to pranks and misuse, the author argues that it is possible to reduce this risk by looking carefully at the intent of public notice and the history of democratic evolution. The book concludes with recommendations for smoothing the transition from a paper-based world of records to an environment of speed and virtual portability.
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Chapter 2: The Origins of Public Notice

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Extract

The concept of public notice requires an initial understanding of the difference between what is socially or politically considered public and what might be thought of as private information. This distinction has been problematic for centuries, but the need for public information provided by government in representative democracies has also been taken for granted for just as long. This chapter will untangle some aspects of the delineations between public and private, and then highlight the various ways in which notice is proffered.

For an interesting summary that includes many photographs of public notices, see the illustrated history by Maurice Rickards, entitled The Public Notice, which provides a British overview.60 In this work, Rickards describes not only those instances when government issued stern warnings but also includes many examples of the phrase “public notice” being used by private interests to lend an air of authority to the text. The author suggests that the history of community public notice springs from the early commands of kings and other rulers who sent messages to outlying communities. This intelligence was often read from a script and then posted somewhere for effect, if not actual reading. These edicts may also have been part of the recitation of town criers, who were charged with delivering the orders of the day. The posted document, however, was the most tangible artifact of government for ← 25 | 26 → those outside the physical space of the authorities, and so public notice was often a secondhand but potent devise for...

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