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Setting standards for social media use

July 22, 2010

 One of my tweeps passed along this article from nextgov, discussing a current battle being waged between the Government Services Administration and union employees over a recently released policy on employee behavior on social media sites.

At the heart of the battle is the belief that the policy, which outlines some dos and don’ts of navigating the social media space, including banning personal attacks and political speech, somehow violates the freedom of speech of GSA employees. It’s the kind of debate that sets legitimate debate about social media use in the workplace back a few years. I honestly don’t know what the union is thinking on this one. I’m very sympathetic to the importance of free speech and openness – I’m a huge proponent of creating policies that empower federal government employees to talk openly about their work and engage in open dialogue with the American public.

But the GSA guidelines in no way hinder the kind of transparent communication on the part of government employees I’d like to see. Sure, there is some language that could perhaps be softened but the overal tenants are ones you’ll see mirrored across government agencies and private corporations who have successfully empowered employee use of social tools. The specific issues that the union is outlining are not surprising, coming from a union, but I don’t see how they think they have a case. The fact that they’ve specifically chosen to point out political speech and prohibitions on personal attacks as parts of the policy they disagree with don’t surprise me, but they certainly disappoint me.

Who in their right mind should have a reasonable expectation that it’s okay to conduct online communications that could any way be construed as personal attacks while at the office or from a government e-mail address? Union employees need to get a grip and take their cyber-bullying and political speech to their gmail account after work hours.

I just hope the GSA holds up the policy, and some baseline standards for social media conduct during work hours. Otherwise they might as well do away with any standards. I’m sure there are plenty of government employees who would be glad to take advantage of pornography from their workplace computers, and if GSA capitulates on this one and takes the union’s argument, that seems to be where they’re headed.

I’ll unpack this issue a little more tomorrow, and specifically talk about the guidelines I created at the Army.


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