Big brother attitude to public servant’s social media is gross overstep of power

Online advocacy group Digital Rights Watch has expressed serious concerns over social media guidelines for federal public servants released today.

“This is a gross overstep of power from a government showing a staggering lack of understanding of the role of online civic debate,” said Digital Rights Watch Chair Tim Singleton Norton.

The new guidelines warn that public servants would be in breach of code of conduct if they “liked” anti-government posts, privately emailing negative mat­erial or do not ­remove “nasty comments” about the government posted by others. The new policies apply to employees even if they use social media in a private capacity outside of work hours.

“It’s an incredibly dangerous step for a government to move to controlling employee’s’ social media use, particularly when that extends to their private lives away from the workplace.”

“It is truly ridiculous that we now have a situation where citizens can live in fear of retribution from their own government because of actions as innocent as commenting on or ‘liking’ a social media post.”

“To go so far as to suggest that individuals can be held accountable for failing to address comments made by acquaintances just shows a complete lack of understanding of role of social media. Do we now assume that federal public servants are held responsible for the political views of their associates?”

“An effective and useful social media policy is something that every business, organisation and government department certainly needs. But they should be structured in a way that empowers individuals to exercise their right to freedom of speech within a framework that protects confidentiality or any conflict of interest.”

“As governments grapple with how to manage the growing world of digital discussion, we should not be moving to stifle the democratic power of social media platforms. Individuals have a right to express their opinions, both online and in person, regardless of their place of employment – in fact these rights are enshrined in several UN charters, including the Declaration of Human Rights.”

“The right to freedom of expression is most important in circumstances where someone is criticising the government. The health of our democracy depends on people being able to express their political opinions. This new policy simply goes too far.”

“What is clearly needed here is a wider conversation around the grey areas thrown up by workplace social media policies and the implications on individual freedom of speech, involving government, workers, unions and digital rights experts. We would look forward to working with government to make this happen,” concluded Mr Singleton Norton.

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