A bit late on blogging this, but anyhow.
From the Friday story, titled Internet age a challenge to impartial public service:
The commission [ie, the PSC] concluded the young PCO analyst who posted his support for the Liberal party had crossed the line with “improper political activity,” but found no evidence that this affected his ability to do his job.
The employee wasn’t disciplined for his Facebook entry other than receiving a letter from the commission warning against “political activities” that could undermine his ability to do his job impartially — or leave that impression.
The unnamed bureaucrat wasn’t a senior executive but he did work for PCO, which has a more politically sensitive mandate than other departments.
1. Tempting to write this off as a PCO thing, since life is different at “the centre.” But that would be a mistake — especially for people working in communications and marketing, as we routinely bump up against the political/administrative divide in government. Impartiality is important throughout the bureaucracy.
2. Nor is it an age thing — leaving aside the fact that “young PCO analyst” is pretty ambigous, it is clear that social networking is increasingly popular among all workplace demographics.
3. In one sense, nothing has changed. Listing your political affiliation on a social networking site is analogous to wearing a party badge or political button on your coat. If you want to be seen as impartial, don’t do it.
4. Social networks like make it all too easy for this kind of thing to happen. When I signed up for Facebook, I remember that the “political affiliation” question was part of the registration process. Incredibly easy for an inattentive user to pick something that they will later regret since their focus is on getting signed up.
5. Yes social networking is redrawing the line between public/private. My rule of thumb – err on the side of caution and treat online participation as more public than private. I assume that how I present yourself online always has a an impact on my personal reputation and the reputation of my employer. (Writing this, it occurs to me that it’s probably no different in the private sector.) By the by, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner has been doing great work on privacy issues around social networking.
6. As cases like these start to pile up, it will be tempting to simply block off the social web in government workplaces. This would be a mistake, as not only would business value be lost, but it would just drive the activity “underground.” People will find a way regardless — so better to encourage responsible use than to make people do it behind your back. The recently reanimated StopBlocking.org has great info on why it’s better to allow your people access.
7. On policy: I don’t feel that new rules need to be invented. There’s enough policy out there already. I am in favour of education and guidance though — to help us navigate through this new and unfamiliar terrain. Whether in terms of reminding employees of their responsibilities as public servants or by having early adopters and leaders showing us how it’s done. Or creating a touchstone of some sort that interprets existing rules in the light of new realities presented by the social web (for this last one, I’m looking at you TBS).