Critics weigh in on tough new social media policy for public servants: How strict should you be with staff about posting online?

social media policy

Australian small businesses are being advised to ensure their social media guidelines for employees are reasonable in wake of criticism directed at the Australian Public Service Commission’s (APSC) recent guidelines for public servant’s media accounts.

The guidelines were updated yesterday to include a number of provisions and rules around commonwealth public servants’ use of personal social media accounts, including notes around how public servants may like or share posts, and even mentions of specific emoji use.

Breaching these guidelines puts public servants in potential breach of the Public Service Act, specifically the Code of Conduct within the Act.

Staff covered by this document are asked to consider a number of criteria to decide whether the comments they make on social media are in breach of the Code, such as if the posts/comments criticise their current agency, minister, or use inappropriate language.

The policy warns that it is impossible to truly be anonymous when posting on line. The guidelines also include rules for posting after-hours, as well as outlining that friends who might repost or share comments that have been made online by a public servant, even if the original post was private, can be seen as a breach of the Code.

Similarly, sending a post through a private email to a friend can be seen as a breach, as “there’s nothing to stop your friend taking a screenshot of that email”.

“If you ‘like’ something on a social media platform, it will generally be taken to be an endorsement of that material as though you’d created that material yourself,” the APSC’s guidelines say.

Posts that public servants share are seen in a similar light: however, if staff are wishing to share the post to show they disagree with it, they are asked to ”make sure that you make that clear at the time in a way that doesn’t breach the Code itself”.

“It may not be enough to select the ‘angry face’ icon, especially if you’re one of thousands that have done so,” the guidelines say.

The extensive policies have been referred to as an “overreach” by Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood, who told The Australian it was “completely unreasonable for a worker to face disciplinary ­action over a private email or something as benign as ‘liking’ a social media post”.

“Of course there needs to be limits but this policy goes too far. The notion that the mum of a gay son who happens to work in Centrelink can’t like a Facebook post on marriage equality without endangering her job is patently ­absurd,” she said.

Writing a social media policy? Consider drawing the line at personal posts

Business owners may be questioning what social media restrictions they could place on their employees, but general manager at Wattsnext HR Ben Watts advises companies to steer away from similar policies like this one, criticising them as a “total overreaction”.

“I think it’s a total overreaction. It shows a disconnect with the majority of employees. The millennial generation is soon to become the majority of our workforce, so this is totally disconnected with a large group of people,” Watts told SmartCompany.

“This seems to be written by someone with no grasp of the current social media reality.”

Watts does advocate for businesses to have clear social media activity guidelines for employees, but stresses these should only apply when employees are directly representing the brand.

“The line should be drawn at personal social media. If they’re representing the business, for example on a business social media account or driving a company branded car, the rules should be similar to that of the workplace,” he says.

“We advise businesses to write policies around these areas, so if an employee is seen doing donuts at the local reserve in the company car, there should be a talking to.”

“Businesses hire professionals, and when they represent the business you should expect them to stay that way.”

As for employees using company social accounts, or accounts directly associated with the company, Watts advises guidelines around “potentially abrasive” topics such as religion, race, and other similar “taboos”, but says the guidelines should not extend to personal accounts.

“If someone is directly representing your brand, or wearing your brand, they should behave like they’re in the workplace,” he says.

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4 years ago

““This seems to be written by someone with no grasp of the current social media reality.” – that says it all. Caffeined late nights in the office in Canberra = nonsense results. No boss all the way up the chain had the gumption to say, Come o-o-o-n-n-n-n, you’re dreamin’.

Jesse Mullins
Jesse Mullins
4 years ago

Great article. What are your thoughts on personal posts that are more PSA style in nature? Should they still be posted or should a line be drawn at all personal posts?

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