An updated social media policy for the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) requires a manager’s approval before staff can post work-related content on social media.
A DPS spokesperson said Mandarin the change comes after the department was sued for liability in lawsuits involving social media posts made by an employee.
“The DPS social media policy incorporates the implications of the High Court judgments in the separate Banerji and Voller cases.
“The policy was changed following a legal proceeding in which the department was named the second defendant for vicarious liability for copyright infringement and defamation,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that the new policy, first reported by Canberra time, would not prevent staff from debating on social networks. Prior to updating the policy, the DPS had also consulted with affected employees and unions, including the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).
“The CPSU raised no concerns at the time and provided no comment,” the spokesperson said.
Andrew Hughes, lecturer in management at ANU’s College of Business & Economics, strongly criticized the policy, saying Mandarin he thought this meant officials were less likely to speak out about wrongdoing.
Hughes was particularly critical of the decision to approve a social media post with just one decision maker.
“If you have questions about power, questions about career path, it’s really threatening in a way because of that reason.
“It’s not like it’s been reviewed by a committee that might be more impartial, independent, or that would look at it from the perspective of what might directly harm the organization itself.
“It comes down to: who is going to challenge their boss? And who challenges their boss on something like that?” said the academic.
Hughes pointed to the Coaldrake report on the Queensland civil service, which called for a public sector culture where open and constructive criticism was encouraged and whistleblowers better protected.
“Obviously this does not mean [that] people can go on and go crazy on social media about anything and everything,” Hughes said.
“But I think that means there needs to be a more tolerant culture that people sometimes post things that may be at odds with organizations in government.”
Dr Peter Chen of the University of Sydney made similar remarks, adding that following a process, no matter how fast, defeats the purpose of speed in social media posts.
“There is clearly a debate about how the DPS should be considered fair treatment in its dealings in parliament, as well as professional issues around risky speech,” said the lecturer in government relations and international.
“But this has to be balanced against the fact that employers assume a certain degree of risk in their working relationships. […] If you allow your organization to be too ruled by risk, you are effectively allowing any potential litigant to set your communications policy for you,” Chen said.
Drawing the line on what is and is not a work-related position can fall in muddy waters, Chen added.
“It’s a cultural thing about how the public and private worlds have come crashing down.
“Employers may lament this, but they have also encouraged it to some extent: they expect employees to be ‘always connected’ and also want employees to use their social media to promote projects or activities. positive things that come from their employment,” he said.
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