Government should publish a Social Media Guidance Policy for its employees

MITLA takes note of the recent media report stating that Minister Bartolo has: “banned all ETC senior management from having a Facebook presence.” (Ref: The Malta Independent – 30th July 2015).

In the context of the above, it is relevant to point out that the Ministry for the Economy, Investment and Small Business has developed a national strategy to enhance Malta’s Digital Economy. Part of this strategy deals specifically with “the introduction of social media to facilitate two-way communication between government and the citizen.”.

MITLA believes that a more correct approach would be to introduce Social Media ethics and policies for the Civil Service as opposed to ban certain public servants from using such communication channels.
Social Media is part of society’s fabric

The use of social media is part of the building blocks that form the country’s communication network. Dealing with social media misuse requires norms, guidelines and education rather than blanket banning.

Different (and unclear) Legal Positions

Case law and/or legislative provisions regularly swing from employer protectionism to employee privacy. In some countries employers are unable to request (or prohibit) employees from using social media (or changing their social media activity) as their right to privacy and freedom of information/expression are considered almost absolute. In other jurisdictions employers are given more liberty – indeed Switzerland allows employers to monitor employee accounts to some extent but it offers weaker solicitation and defamation protection to employers. It is indeed questionable whether the Government can impose a blanket ban on the use of social media by its employees.

Social Media Policies

Many companies have successfully adopted social media policies governing the use of social media by their employees. Companies should be careful that such policies do not intrude unnecessarily into employees’ privacy or free speech rights. In addition social media creates new contexts for familiar employment issues, thus companies should review and update other policies, for example, sexual harassment or ICT usage policies, to reflect the potential impact of social media in the workplace.

The UK Government has introduced a social media guidance policy for its civil servants (last updated: October 2014). As opposed to the ban situation which is presently reported in the media, this policy recognizes that social media can help the civil service reach out to the people it serves. Indeed the policy encourages and enables civil servants to use social media appropriately to enhance their work.

MITLA notes that the Malta Information Technology Agency have indeed published a Social Media Policy in 2014. One has to consider whether it is appropriate to extend its applicability from MITA to the whole civil service. MITLA believes this would be a step in the right direction.

Social Media is part of modern life and any Government should not lose the opportunity to use this tool to assist it in open policy making, better customer service and vibrant interaction with citizens. An indiscriminate ban sends the wrong message. A normative code which advocates propriety and ethics is a far better option.

MITLA is a member of the INPLP

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