Federales crackdown on the tweeting drones

johnboy 18 January 2012 25

Markus Mannheim in the Canberra Times has an interesting story on a pretty major crackdown in the public service on tweeting and blogging by public service employees.

The commission’s head of ethics, Karin Fisher, said bureaucrats had the same right to freedom of expression as other citizens.

But that right was ”subject to legitimate public interests, such as the maintenance of an impartial and effective public service in which the community can have confidence”.

The Public Service Act says bureaucrats ”must at all times behave in a way that upholds … the integrity and the good reputation of Australia”.

Ms Fisher said this applied to comments made outside office hours and on issues unrelated to a public servant’s work.

So that pretty much rules out any sort of useful contribution to public debate by anyone who actually understands the reasons for government policy.

Well done Greg Jericho.


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25 Responses to Federales crackdown on the tweeting drones
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Myles Peterson Myles Peterson 8:28 am 16 Feb 12

“Actually we have more public servants using social media each year. And many of us have been using it for far longer than Greg.”

Ah well, if you’re going to take digs at Greg.

Why don’t you tell us about your work on YourHealth.gov.au and what sort of state it was in when you found it? 😉

CraigThomler CraigThomler 7:34 am 16 Feb 12

Actually we have more public servants using social media each year. And many of us have been using it for far longer than Greg.

The APSC guidance won’t constrain this growth. The usual suspects will use it to say “see the government is stopping public servants from contributing”, or “social media must be dangerous”. The rest of us will keep on using it constructively 🙂

Sandman Sandman 9:33 pm 10 Feb 12

PM said :

Some APS agencies have already banned access to this site….

And why wouldn’t they? What productive purpose does this website serve for most APS agencies or positions?

Mrs Sandman is reasonably high up in the APS and was telling me about this new policy a couple weeks ago. Made a hell of a lot of sense to me. If you were in the private sector and trash talked your employer via social media they wouldn’t just look the other way and ignore it. Why should the Public Service? From my experience, the people that whine and bitch the most are the ones doing the least amount of productive work.

PantsMan PantsMan 11:38 pm 18 Jan 12

I think the APSC is a gutless wounder that turns a blind eye to misconduct such as leaking, backgrounding of journalists, misconduct and under-performance by SES officers and secretaries.

Further, as the guidance material from the APSC is only interpretative, and there is no change to the actual law in the Public Service Act 1999, then there is no actual policy change and the whole reissue of the circular is just designed to intimidate public servants.

Bramina Bramina 8:33 pm 18 Jan 12

Primal said :

As a rule of thumb, irrespective of the forum, anyone who posts material online should make an assumption that at some point their identity and the nature of their employment will be revealed.

This still doesn’t prevent anyone from making a rational and respectful argument against government policy or activity. The guidelines being released here seem to be deliberately couched in terms of avoiding extremes (“so harsh or extreme in its criticism that [it raises questions about your ability to do your job professionally]…”, “so strong in its criticism [of administration that it could seriously disrupt the workplace]”, “a gratuitous personal attack that…” etc.).

[Disclaimer: Yes, I am APS. And I care about this stuff. This is my personal viewpoint and not the opinion of my agency. Terms and conditions apply, see in-store for details.]

I agree. As long as you aren’t saying things that conflicts with your role as an impartial advisor to your minister, it’s fine. Obviously, extreme comments on any subject directed towards the government would jeopardise your impartiality as would any comments in your area of work.

Otherwise it’s completely reasonable.

CraigThomler CraigThomler 7:05 pm 18 Jan 12

I hardly see this as a crackdown – bit of a beat-up story if you ask me.

There’s quite a few of us public servants participated very actively on social media. All it gets down to is treating your employer with the respect you’d expect them to treat you with.

If you behave with respect and courtesy online you’re fine.

Don’t believe me? See my blog on Gov 2.0 and social media – written for four years by a public servant 🙂 (http://egovau.blogspot.com)

Waiting For Godot Waiting For Godot 5:20 pm 18 Jan 12

Things haven’t changed in the PS. I was at one Department for 8 years in the late 1970s, early 1980s. During that period I also wrote letters to the editor. I left the Department under acrimonious circumstances and three years later I went back there to read my personnel files. To my surprise, every one of my published letters had been pasted on pages and inserted into the files. Comments from senior management and supervisors were also written on the folios.

You can only imagine the efforts now being expended trawling the Net with various spider programs trying to find dirt on the current generation of officers and employees.

poetix poetix 4:38 pm 18 Jan 12

PM said :

Some APS agencies have already banned access to this site….

Thank you Julia.

jinkies jinkies 4:14 pm 18 Jan 12

Crackdown initiation was probably imposed after this article. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-11-21/act-twitter-users-study-depressed/3683652

fozzy fozzy 3:49 pm 18 Jan 12

The bottom half of this piece:

http://grogsgamut.blogspot.com/2012/01/drum-piece-movies-and-pirates-and-being.html

has Greg Jericho’s thoughts on the “Jericho Amendments” as others have dubbed them.

Tellingly:

“It’s nicely ironic that “the Jericho Amendments” had no input from this Jericho.”

Jivrashia Jivrashia 3:39 pm 18 Jan 12

Rule 1. You do not talk about The-RiotACT..
Rule 2. You DO NOT talk about The-RiotACT.
Rule 3. If someone mentions APS, or the Eagle’s Nest, it’s over.

Holden Caulfield Holden Caulfield 3:13 pm 18 Jan 12

PM said :

Some APS agencies have already banned access to this site….

They can take away my RA, but they can’t take away my reptoids.

PM PM 1:32 pm 18 Jan 12

Some APS agencies have already banned access to this site….

pajs pajs 1:31 pm 18 Jan 12

“Well done James Massola” would have been a more fitting end to your cut and paste job above, John.

Primal Primal 12:45 pm 18 Jan 12

It’s disappointing that this is being framed in such a negative light – conventional wisdom in the APS would have suggested that staff should not have opinions at all (and I’m pretty sure there are a few SES who maintain that view).

This Circular is an improvement, so far as it clarifies that APS personnel can make comments online in a personal capacity but you need to be careful about not implying that you are representing your agency or making an official comment (and, indeed, careful about just not being a ginormous jerk while you’re commenting). This is a position that can already been found in some agency-level policies on social media, and wouldn’t be particularly out of place in the private sector either (aka “embarrass us and you’re fired”).

And let’s be honest, if the media discovered another Grog out there, they wouldn’t give a damn about whether or not he/she was breaching APSC guidance, they’d still try and have them shot.

davo101 said :

To quote from the Code of Conduct:

As a rule of thumb, irrespective of the forum, anyone who posts material online should make an assumption that at some point their identity and the nature of their employment will be revealed.

This still doesn’t prevent anyone from making a rational and respectful argument against government policy or activity. The guidelines being released here seem to be deliberately couched in terms of avoiding extremes (“so harsh or extreme in its criticism that [it raises questions about your ability to do your job professionally]…”, “so strong in its criticism [of administration that it could seriously disrupt the workplace]”, “a gratuitous personal attack that…” etc.).

[Disclaimer: Yes, I am APS. And I care about this stuff. This is my personal viewpoint and not the opinion of my agency. Terms and conditions apply, see in-store for details.]

Duffbowl Duffbowl 12:45 pm 18 Jan 12

EvanJames said :

If people used pseudonyms and were a bit vague, they’d be OK unless someone was hell-bent on catching them. But known public figures like Gunghalin Al have cause for concern, and that’s a shame. Sadly, as soon as this kind of thinking is announced, the application of it becomes the usual risk-averse walnut/hammer scenario, with up-jumped little PS roosters using it to get people.

As someone who may or may not have had the privilege of reading the emails of public servants and reported on what websites they visited and which ones posted what to where, it already happens.

Some departments are stricter than others. If you don’t want someone to immediately (for a given value of immediately) know what you posted to RiotACT, I’d suggest posting from your phone. Better yet, petition JB to get an SSL certificate for session encryption.

Someonesmother Someonesmother 12:23 pm 18 Jan 12

After being the victim of an abuse of power in a campaign targetting getting rid of older workers this type of ‘Code of Conduct’ was used relating to what I ‘may’ have written,(it was inuendo and no evidence was ever forthcoming as to this suppoosed comment. It cost me a lot in legal fees to fight the slur and I won). I agree with Davo101 it doesn’t matter if they sling mud it sticks and it is up to you to prove that you didn’t write it. Big brother is watching and knows all. My grandmother once told me “don’t ever write anything down that you don’t want on the front page of a newspaper”. Very wise words

davo101 davo101 11:12 am 18 Jan 12

johnboy said :

Also very little of what we do touches on the federales.

Exactly. So long as you don’t post about what you do at work, what you found out at work, people you work with, or what you think of the government’s policy then you’re pretty much in the clear.

Anyway I thought pretty much all of the ranting here was about the ACT government. What’s their policy?

harvyk1 harvyk1 11:04 am 18 Jan 12

Whilst we don’t actually have freedom of speech in Australia, there are many places in the law where it is implied.

Provided that a person does not release classified information, and provided the person does not write something which would make the reader believe it is the view of the public service, then I think Karin Fisher will have a great deal of problems trying to gag someone.

When a person signs up to the PS, they need to agree to a code of conduct, which includes being impartial to either sides of politics whilst doing official duty. Outside of that they are still allowed to have their own views and opinions, and like any good democracy they would be allowed to express those views as personal views without fear of reprisal.

davo101 davo101 11:03 am 18 Jan 12

steveu said :

I think that as long as you do not have identified anywhere online in your profile etc. that you are a PS, and you do not make it known in any of your discussions that you work in the PS, then you are safe.

Happy to be corrected if the dawn of the thought police is truly here however.

To quote from the Code of Conduct:

As a rule of thumb, irrespective of the forum, anyone who posts material online should make an assumption that at some point their identity and the nature of their employment will be revealed.

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