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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 3: Modern Legal Definitions of Public Notice

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Public notice as a social concept has been with us for centuries, but public notice as defined in law, sometimes referred to as legal notice or legal advertising, has had a somewhat shorter history. This chapter will highlight some of the principles and uses of public notice as a legal construct.

Many of the early uses by government of public notice come through common law case notes.121 As John Rayner noted in his thorough work on libel laws of England, “Common law is common reason…not thereby that common reason wherewith a man is naturally endued, but that perfection of reason which is gotten by long and continual study.”122 Among the eighteenth-century references to public notice is a complaint about newspapers disseminating misinformation in the name of authority.123 But perhaps more important was the legal assertion that government should keep public records, and that they would be available for inspection for any reason at all.124

The legal assertion in these cases is that the government should, of course, keep records, and that those records should be available to anyone who needs to consult them. But these court opinions do not assert that it is the responsibility of the government to bring those records to the attention of anyone who might be affected by what the documents contain. That notion of providing information directly to the citizens, as a legal requirement of ← 41 | 42 → the community, is in scant evidence in the period before colonial America...

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