Social media guidance part 1 – do you have a ‘private life’ any more?

I attended a fascinating discussion yesterday at #Teacamp (a monthly get together for digital geeks) about social media guidance for the public sector.

The Government Digital Service, on behalf of central government, are updating the existing social media guidance for civil servants which is now a few years old.

The overall thrust of the guidance, as before, is going to be follow the Civil Service Code – or as it is often summarised ‘don’t be a muppet’. For the other non-government organisations this typically means following their ‘Code of Conduct’ or equivalents. All pretty standard stuff.

What provoked some heated debate was when it was stated that as public servants we cannot have a private ‘digital life’ anymore.

It was argued that it is not very difficult from our digital footprint to know that we work in the public sector and for whom. So when we post to Facebook or use a ‘private’ Twitter account others can still make judgements about what we like and our behaviours.

It was suggested that as such activity can often be seen by those who make a slight effort to be nosey and therefore we could ‘have a problem Huston’.

This was one example – what if we are always seen reading Guardian articles online yet are supposed to be impartial civil servants? Will my policy advice then become suspect in the eyes of Ministers?

Someone protested – ‘but I have a right to a private life and I did not sign that away when I became a civil servant’.

However more agreed than disagreed with the growing lack of a private ‘digital life’.

What do you think?

Are you ‘always on’ and concious of who you work for in the public, or indeed private sector, whenever you use social media?



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2 responses to “Social media guidance part 1 – do you have a ‘private life’ any more?

  1. Anonymous

    Nick,I doubt that this is strictly legal. If nothing else, it would infringe human rights legislation. Everyone is permitted a private life, away from work and work policies and regulations. The thing that has puzzled me most is why the personal and private digital profiles of civil servants typically indicate that they "work for xxx gov department; views are my own". Why say anything about who you work for if this is a personal/private domain? By being explicit about who you work for you’re opening up a potential grey area over conflict of interest. My advice would be to keep personal/private profiles strictly personal.

  2. Anonymous

    Steve,yes this is why there was some strong debate when this point was raised. I have a feeling that the ‘intention’ was to warn public sector workers what was likely to happen even if it could not be mandated? That said I have heard informally that some workers have been told in no uncertain terms what they could and could not do on Twitter for example. A conversation to be continued no doubt.

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