Public Servants should exercise care with social media

The resignation of Darryl Adams from the Tax Office, who the Canberra Times today reported, was facing more punishment over his use of Twitter, underlines the need for Public Servants to exercise care when using social media.

The most recent guidance for Public Servants on making public comment and participating online is contained in Australian Public Service Commission Circular 2012/1:

This guidance includes advice in relation to employees making comment in an official capacity, and in an unofficial capacity (that is, outside their APS role).

In relation to making comment unofficially, it states that it is not appropriate for APS employees to make comment that is, or could be perceived to be, among other things:

  • compromising their capacity to fulfil their duties in an unbiased manner, particularly where comment is made about policies and programs of the employee’s agency;
  • so harsh or extreme in its criticism of the Government, a member of parliament from another political party, or their respective policies, that it raises questions about the APS employee’s capacity to work professionally, efficiently or impartially;
  • so strong in its criticism of an agency’s administration
  • that it could seriously disrupt the workplace; or
  • compromising public confidence in the agency or the APS.

The guidance notes that APS employees need to ensure that they understand the APS Values and Code of Conduct and how they apply to the official and unofficial communications. 

If in doubt, they are advised to consider carefully whether to comment and what to say; consult their agency’s policies, seek advice from someone in authority in their agency, or consult the Ethics Advisory Service in the APSC.

Using social media in an unofficial capacity is a topic raised regularly with the Ethics Advisory Service.

In relation to online communication in particular, the guidance states that:

  • any information an APS employee posts online relating to their employment is able to be located easily and quickly by a search engine, and this information may be taken out of context;
  • APS employees must still uphold the APS Values and Code of Conduct even when material is posted anonymously, or using a pseudonym, and should bear in mind that even if they do not identify themselves online as an APS employee or an employee of their agency, they could nonetheless be recognised as such; and
  • 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.

“The reputation of the Australian Public Service will be enhanced by Mr Adams’ recognition of his need to resign, given his history of ill-advised tweeting,” Senator Abetz said.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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