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.

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Stephen Peteritas

While the law is the law and you can’t break it this post makes me feel bad fro civil servants. You can’t expect people to not have opinions and by default you can’t expect them not to express those opinions. I agree with your points in terms of today’s world but I think that it’s a sad state of affairs that they have to be made. People should be able to say what they want to say.

Rob Carty

Interesting case testing free speech and new media. Stephen and Dave both make good points. To tie back to Twitter specifically, I think if the account name had been different it would have been less of an issue, but if you identify yourself in the account handle as a civil servant, then blast your government, there’s likely to be an issue. If his/her handle had been, “pizzalvr22”, and was still a public servant, the uproar would probably be less. But perhaps not – we’re all still finding our way on the shifting sands of new media people with the power to reprimand are quick to overreact.