For the last four years, a town in southern Spain has been conducting a remarkable experiment in civic life. Jun (pronounced “hoon”) has been using Twitter as its principal medium for citizen-government communication. Leading the effort is Jun’s Mayor, José Antonio Rodríguez Salas, a passionate believer in the power of technology to solve problems and move society forward.
Since launching the initiative in 2011, Rodríguez Salas has been recruiting his 3,500 townspeople to not only join the social network but have their Twitter accounts locally verified at town hall. This extra step isn’t necessary to participate in the conversation – Twitter is open to anyone – but it helps town employees know they’re dealing with actual residents.
In the most basic scenario, a citizen who has a question, request or complaint tweets it to the mayor or one of his staff, who work to resolve the matter. For instance, in thesequence of tweets shown below (which we pulled from the 2014 Twitter data and translated into English), at 10:48 pm a citizen tells the mayor that a street lamp is out on Maestro Antonio Linares Street. Nine minutes later, the mayor replies that he’ll have the town electrician fix it the next day. The mayor’s tweet includes the Twitter handle of the electrician, who is automatically notified that he’s been mentioned and sees the exchange. That tweet is a public promise that the town will indeed take action, and to underline this it ends with the hashtag #JunGetsMoving. The next day, the electrician tweets a photo of the repaired fixture, thanking the citizen for his help and repeating the hashtag.
According to the mayor, this system is saving the town time and money. Tweeting is quicker than fielding and returning phone calls, which used to consume his day. He says these efficiencies have allowed him to reduce the police force from four employees to just one. Jun’s sole police officer told us he now receives 40 to 60 citizen tweets per day, ranging from the serious (there’s been a bad car accident) to the trivial (my neighbor is singing at all hours, please make him stop). He noted that being accessible to the public on a 24/7 social network has its downsides; to protect his family time, on arriving home in the evening he turns off his phone. But what if there’s an emergency, we asked. Answer: It’s a small town and everyone knows where he lives.
Jun citizens also use Twitter to voice their views on local issues. At town council meetings, which are streamed live on the web, those not physically present may participate by tweeting questions and comments, which appear on a screen in the council chamber.
Beyond government, the social network is broadly integrated into the town’s everyday life, used for a wide variety of tasks such as publicizing social and cultural events, booking medical appointments, following youth sports teams, and just keeping up with neighbors. The town employee who tweets the school lunch menu each weekday told us on that on weekends she enjoys sharing some of her family’s home life via tweets. One retiree who learned to use Twitter at a technology education center run by the town said the network has become his principal news source. “It’s just like a newspaper!” he enthused, noting that the mayor tweets so often about national and global events, he’s a one-man media outlet.
Jun essentially runs on Twitter, a groundbreaking use of social technology that, as far as we know, is unique.