Comment: Policing bad behaviour online shouldn’t mean dobbing
New guidelines from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet will urge public servants to report colleagues who post comments critical of the government on social media websites.
The rules will apply to posts on social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter, whether in an official or unofficial capacity, The Daily Telegraph reports.
“If an employee becomes aware of another employee who is engaging in conduct that may breach this policy, there is an expectation that the employee will report the conduct to the department,” the rules state.
“This means that if you receive or become aware of a social media communication by another Prime employee that is not consistent with this policy, you should advise that person accordingly and inform your supervisor.”
In a statement to SBS a spokesman for the Department defended the policy.
“The Department considers the social media policy is appropriate. It is an internal document for employees and is consistent with APSC guidelines,” the statement read.
“The Department will make no further comment.”
Posts are in breach if they are: “harsh or extreme in their criticism of the Government, Government policies, a member of parliament from another political party, or their respective policies, that they could raise questions about the employee’s capacity to work professionally, efficiently or impartially.”
Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson said the new guidelines were consistent with workers’ rights to freedom of speech.
“There is nothing inconsistent with free speech and having codes of conduct or policies as a condition of employment that require professional, respectful behaviour in their role and the public domain,” Mr Wilson said in a statement to SBS.
He said such policies were “very common” and not limited to the public service.
“Such policies and codes can be a helpful way of normalising civil, respectful behaviour in all aspects of life.
“It is not unreasonable for such policies to apply to conduct directly related to the primary and specific area of work of a public servant, but are unjustified when they are very broad and limit democratic participation”.
The rules also apply to comments made anonymously, if the person who reported the post had knowledge of the poster’s identity.
Mr Wilson said the inclusion of such posts in the guidelines was necessary.
“Anonymity should not justify exemptions because it can be connected back to the individual and their work,” he said.
“Ultimately public servants voluntarily and knowingly choose to accept these limits on their conduct when they accept employment”.
READ MORE: Public Servant Regulations, Public Service Code of Conduct.