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.