can we handle the truth?

At last month's Social Media for Government conference, a major take-away for me was the disruptive power of Web 2.0 tools to bureaucracy. Many government communicators, CTOs, and program managers squirmed as a parade of case studies revealed the leveling effect that unfettered access to information and transparency can unleash. It's the chaos of user-generated information and questioning of the "truth" that's most fascinating to me. Even if senior leaders of any organization (public, private, for/non-profit) wanted to stem the tide of input (and challenge to authority) from everyperson, it's too late. The cat's out of the bag.

The digital natives (a.k.a. Gen Y employees) who will soon enough be running these organizations don't seem to be afraid to question everything. During one poignant exchange, that the New York Times is a font of credible knowledge (as asserted by a senior PBA officer) was quickly dismissed by a young agency communicator: "The first thing I do is Google a headline to see what else is being said on the topic!" The PBA guy sat in stunned silence.

What excites me is the social experiment that's unfolding. This technology appears to be self-leveling - so no matter what crazy rumors (or officially spun messages) get started in the virtual grapevine, a critical mass of contributors will ultimately flush out the real story. Maybe. On the other hand, if the questioners aren't questioning their own rhetoric, does the truth have a chance to emerge? Last Sunday's Washington Post article, Truth: Can You Handle It?, takes a closer look - as do the slew of comments posted in response.