I recently read a post by @GrogsGamut (aka Greg Jericho) about his thoughts on the new Australian Public Service conduct guidelines, including some new content about online spaces and the obligations of public servants who comment in them – in a professional or personal capacity.

As acknowledged by Greg, there is some good advice about anonymous or pseudononymous use of social media, noting particularly the perhaps obvious but often forgotten point that such use can be reidentified regardless of intent.

But I fundamentally disagree with some of his arguments.

I have a background in healthcare, where there is fairly stringent requirements for health professionals to maintain outwardly professional personas, even in their ‘personal lives’. This is something that some are quite uncomfortable with, but comes with working in the profession.

Now, the Australian Public Service might not be quite as stringent. They don’t have review boards where professionals are pulled up for potentially inappropriate behaviours.

But working in Government requires an understanding that it is a conservative space.That means that yes, you do have to follow the standard code of conduct, which includes (this is one of the general principles for ‘participating online’):

not acting in a way that would call into question the APS employee’s ability to be apolitical, impartial and professional in the performance of their duties

This policy in no ways is telling public servants that they do not have a right to have their own opinion. But the outward face of the APS has to be apolitical and professional. And who represents this face (aka brand)? The employees of the APS.

So I disagree with Greg. The APS is just like a company or any other organisation: it has a brand. And it wants to protect it, like anyone else. The public’s attitudes and opinions can and do impact the workplace; much in the same way as a doctor working for a hospital or a CEO/manager of a company (see Beyond Blue as a good case study).

The guidelines will not cause disruption. The guidelines, like all social media policies, are put in place to demonstrate to employees what the APS considers reasonable and appropriate conduct. I could easily imagine a similar argument if there was a situation where someone was publicly disciplined without any kind of policy to back up that action – so I think that Greg should congratulate them on acknowledging the risk and providing their expectations.

If you work for an organisation and don’t like the corporate culture, or don’t like having confidentiality agreements (see some areas of government), or don’t like the way that they operate – don’t work for them.

And for those who are working in government and have to deal with overly restrictive policies – advocate for change. But change has to occur from within. Slamming them in a public forum isn’t going to change it – it’s just flaming.

And we all know not to feed the trolls.

(PS: another quick distinction. When Greg comments this:

Want to know how pathetic the APSC is when it comes to social media – take a look at their Facebook page. They have no idea what social media is or how it operates

That page is an automatically generated page because someone has checked into the APSC or listed them as employer – that is why it is populated with Wikipedia information. It’s not controlled or set up by them.)