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Social media guidance part 1 – do you have a ‘private life’ any more?

I attended a fascinating discussion yesterday at #Teacamp (a monthly get together for digital geeks) about social media guidance for the public sector.

The Government Digital Service, on behalf of central government, are updating the existing social media guidance for civil servants which is now a few years old.

The overall thrust of the guidance, as before, is going to be follow the Civil Service Code – or as it is often summarised ‘don’t be a muppet’. For the other non-government organisations this typically means following their ‘Code of Conduct’ or equivalents. All pretty standard stuff.

What provoked some heated debate was when it was stated that as public servants we cannot have a private ‘digital life’ anymore.

It was argued that it is not very difficult from our digital footprint to know that we work in the public sector and for whom. So when we post to Facebook or use a ‘private’ Twitter account others can still make judgements about what we like and our behaviours.

It was suggested that as such activity can often be seen by those who make a slight effort to be nosey and therefore we could ‘have a problem Huston’.

This was one example – what if we are always seen reading Guardian articles online yet are supposed to be impartial civil servants? Will my policy advice then become suspect in the eyes of Ministers?

Someone protested – ‘but I have a right to a private life and I did not sign that away when I became a civil servant’.

However more agreed than disagreed with the growing lack of a private ‘digital life’.

What do you think?

Are you ‘always on’ and concious of who you work for in the public, or indeed private sector, whenever you use social media?

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Corey McCarren

Yes. As a communications professional, when I post something I consider two things:

1) Will this make me look bad in the eyes of my employer?

2) Will this make my employer look bad?

I do this willingly out of concern for my career and respect for my employers. I don’t know what level of appropriate it would be for an employer to judge me based on my personal social media activities, but I avoid anything that would bring up that concern. On Twitter I’m much more ‘on’ in general than I am on Facebook, because I keep Facebook private between myself and friends, whereas Twitter is open to the whole world.

Dannielle Blumenthal

Yes. But I don’t think most people are. So eventually what the rest of us post will probably be less and less important. One day we might even look back and ask what all the fuss was about.

Donna Ledbetter

Yes, public servants are always on, but so is everyone else. Some employers will decide whether to hire people these days based on their social media presence and whether they find their activies acceptable.

When thinking about whether to use social media, most of my own reservation usually stems from wanting to portray a positive image about myself at all times should my public and private life ever collide.