Just because you can say something…

…doesn’t mean that you should. Of course.

A bit of a Twitter flurry this morning about a case of a civil servant apparently being disciplined because of their use of the service.

The account in question, nakedCservant, is protected, so the updates aren’t public, and as I have never requested access, I can’t see what they are saying. However, according to this report, the civil servant behind the account was critical of ministers and government policy.

Various folk have called this out as being an example of a crack down on public servants being allowed to use services like Twitter in the workplace.

I’m not convinced it is.

The issue here is the message, not the medium, and it reminds me very much of the Civil Serf affair a few years ago. Whilst I don’t know the exact detail of this case, it’s clear that the civil servant is almost certainly in breach of the civil service code in terms of the content of their tweets.

In other words, the Twitter bit of this story is irrelevant. The result would be the same if this person were saying these things in emails, memos, letters to the newspaper, whatever.

I’ll go through my usual list of points when these stories emerge:

1. If you want to stay out of trouble, don’t slag people off in public.

2. Don’t rely on anonymity to protect you. Unless you’re very good, if somebody wants to find out who you are, they can do.

3. Having ‘these are my views, not those of my employer’ in your Twitter biography means absolutely nothing in reality. It’s no protection at all and I worry when I hear people being advised to do it as a way to feel safe about this stuff.

4. Never publish anything on the web you wouldn’t be happy to show your boss, your mother or a journalist. Assume everyone can see everything you write and that way you won’t be surprised when it turns out they can.

5. We’re in a strange situation at the moment where our personal and professional identities are in a state of flux and can’t be separated in a reasonable way. Most people, especially those that work in public services, can easily be traced to their employers online with a bit of Googling.

Maybe at some point in the future this will be sorted out, and we’ll have a common understanding of where work stops and home starts. But until then, be careful and if you have to think twice about posting something online, don’t post it!

Update: Steph adds on Twitter “don’t do politics” – and he’s right.

Update 2: Jimmy Leach blogs the view from the FCO.

4 thoughts on “Just because you can say something…”

  1. Love this piece.

    At the recent BBC Social Media Summit, Liz Heron of the New York Times said they only have two guidelines for their journalists using social media

    1) don’t be stupid and 2) Remember you are representing the NYT at all times.

    That is really all you need to remember, regardless if you are doing it professionally or personally and representing yourself.

    Someone once said to me “the problem is that online is considered to be the new private space”, where as once everyone was so scared of it, now they perceive a security that doesn’t exist.

    1. Yes, it’s all very straightforward really! People often get mixed up, claiming that by having to watch what they say online is a restriction of their freedom of speech – whilst forgetting that they’ve never really had that freedom in any other medium.

  2. Absolutely agree.

    I run several accounts across different social media platforms, some as my professional self, (eg Twitter, Linked In), some as my band self (Twitter, Facebook, Myspace) and some as my home self (Facebook) with interests in cats, cooking, brewing, alternative arts,etc.

    This rather schizophrenic approach does not give me license to say things about work/politics etc, that I wouldn’t be happy to say at work. Rather, it ensures that I don’t bore my friends with work, or work colleagues with cute kittens. It also helps with the issue where comments left by friends could undermine my professional persona. For example, I have some lovely friends who are not very media savvy and spread spam, or who reveal personal problems online. I don’t want to edit my friends, so I talk to them on one profile (or offline if it’s personal) and to professional peers on another.

    The key thing across all of these platforms is to remember your manners, remember you are in public, and, as Dave said “Never publish anything on the web you wouldn’t be happy to show your boss, your mother or a journalist. “.

  3. Whether it’s acknowledged or not, anytime you have an employer’s name visible, you are their public relations department. Be it the company name on a vehicle, a sweatshirt, jacket or company stationary, you may be the closest thing to contact with your employer that some will ever have. Even if your employer doesn’t share your opinion, people will see you as your employer’s representative. Choose your words carefully. Free speech doesn’t mean there are no consequences.

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