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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 6: Public Notice in Changing Environments

← 96 | 97 → · 6 ·

Extract

Public notices as legal and social constructs are part of the political fabric of many nations. Earlier chapters of this book provided numerous examples of both contemporary public notices and some from centuries ago that were posted as legal advertisements or straightforward announcements about personal and social events. These examples demonstrate how public notice has been used to alert and inform citizens about government activity that is either about to happen or that has already begun.

The central function and value of public notices within a representative democracy has been a matter of importance and substance for centuries. Representative democracies cannot fully function unless the public is sufficiently informed about government activities to participate in shaping social issues and engaging with governance decisions. Public notices have served as a workable means of distributing both information and forewarnings of government initiatives for centuries. It should be clear, then, that both the need for and the use of public notices is not a debatable issue. The issue instead is how to most effectively organize, present, distribute, and archive them.

For hundreds of years, public notices were delivered verbally by messengers and town criers. But more permanent versions of these important missives could also be found in written form on stone tablets, mountainsides, and obelisks, as well as in the houses of scribes and the halls of public libraries. After the development of movable type and pulp printing sheets in the fifteenth century, public notices were more easily and...

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