The Malta Independent 28 August 2016, Sunday

Government’s new policy restricts social media use in the public service

Wednesday, 23 December 2015, 09:34 Last update: about 9 months ago

Government has issued a new policy on the use of social media to government employees in a circular.

The circular was issued on 14 December, and a few days earlier, head of the Civil Service Mario Cutajar (photo below) had told this newsroom that the new policy aims to tackle better the issue of social media use.

The purpose of the policy, the document read, is to “promote the benefits from the use of Social Media while outlining a set of principles as a guide for its appropriate use within the Public Service, so as to minimise risks to the reputation of the individual and that of the Public Service and to its confidential and propriety information”.

The policy is a guide on the proper use of social media by individuals, both for official purposes and personal use, during and outside of office hours for public officers, employees and persons of trust performing public service duties, as well as those forming part of Boards and Committees addressing public service exigencies etc.

The policy allows heads of departments to draw up their own internal written policies, specifically customised to meet the needs of their respective departments.

All individuals, according to the policy, are expected to maintain the same high standards of professional conduct and behaviour online as would be expected elsewhere.

During office hours, individuals must also ensure that any use of social media does not compromise or negatively impact their productivity.

One particularly interesting clause requires individual who encounters any groups, accounts or any other online presence referring to / representing the public service that are not listed as Official Social Media Platforms are required to bring such activity to the attention of the respective Permanent Secretary or Head responsible at law. This particular clause could be linked to the alleged leaks earlier this year, where allegedly workers from the Central Bank and other entities had leaked information to PN MP Tonio Fenech.

Individuals are prohibited from disclosing any information that is confidential, sensitive or work-related. “Any photos related to official duties and official meetings and events, shall not be disclosed, published or made public on the media”.

All use of social media by employees must be in line with the Code of Ethics for Public Employees.

Recently, Employment and Training Corporation CEO Phillip Rizzo (photo) caused a scandal when he commented on a Facebook picture of one of his subordinates who was wearing a swimsuit. “This is the only ETC Head of Division with the three Bs… Brains, Boobs and Balls!!!!... she’s a very capable lady,” he had said.

If the social media activity performed by an individual is considered to be breaching any Public Service policy or direction, the Permanent Secretary or Head responsible at law reserves the right to instruct any individual to undo any activity that refers or which may be implied to refer to the Public Service.

The policy states that no individual has the authority to create or manage social media platforms portraying the public service’s identity unless explicitly authorised in writing by the respective Permanent Secretary or Head responsible at law.

The policy indicates that employees, when posting online in a personal capacity, shall neither claim nor imply that they are speaking on behalf of government, and should include a disclaimer stating that “the views expressed are one’s own and do not reflect the views of the ministry/board/department etc.” It continues to read that employees are not obliged to do so for each post they make.

“The use of a disclaimer does not exempt individuals from being held responsible for making inappropriate comments or other comments which may offend, defame, harass or negatively affect the public administration, colleagues or any other individual”.

In addition, employees cannot speak in a personal capacity where the topic in question falls under the official work remit of, or any other work entrusted, to that individual. “They may, however, re-post news items related to his/her work remit, for dissemination purposes, as long as such re-posts do not degrade, degenerate or in any way jeopardise the reputation of the Public Service”.

Responsibility for overseeing the implementation and operation of this policy falls to the Permanent Secretaries and the Heads responsible at law, within their respective departments and ministries. The policy also states that the Public Service will consider any activity as published content, even if such activity has been removed/deleted.

Any breach of the policy may result in disciplinary action according to the Public Service Commission (Disciplinary Procedure) Regulations.

 

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