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back to article Facebook foolishness foils (un)civil servant's squirm up greasy pole

Welsh bureaucrats are in trouble again for their use of social networking websites: seven civil servants have now been disciplined for their comments on Facebook or Twitter. The latest staff member to draw bosses' ire for online tomfoolery has been banned from promotion for a year after posting remarks on Facebook that were …

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Sir

Dissent shall not be heard.

The Gov.

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They've already had training on this

Or if they haven't, they bloody well should have. They've been slapped down a couple of times before (in 2012 and 2010), and the Reg even reported on it (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/03/05/welsh_civil_servants_social_media_slapdown/)

So if after all this they've been trained and did it anyway, then punishment is appropriate and necessary. If they haven't (yet) been trained after all the bad exposure they've had over the last few years, it's management that should get promotion withheld and not the ground troops.

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I'm sorry, they aren't allowed to express any kind of opinion? Is this supposed to make us think they don't have any opinions of their own? I would much rather know their bias because they have expressed it. They are (alledgedly) people, they are going to have opinions, political and otherwise, but like everyone else they have to stop it affecting their work. Hard to know if it did if you don't know their thoughts.

That and the sheer ridiculousness of this trend to trying to turn employees into drones rather than allowing them to be individuals. Yes they shouldn't allow any bias to affect their work but do they think gagging them will help? If anything it will make it both more likely and harder to spot.

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Anonymous Coward

might end up making them seem more human then their elected masters, they'd quite like it if they could just hire drones though.

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Megaphone

Professionalism

It is a real strength of the British civil service that it is apolitical by design- the people working there have to work with whoever is in government in a professional and unbiased way. A lot of the reason that civil servants get their reputation for blocking innovative policies is often that they were around the last time a minister tried the same policy ( there are no innovative policies ) and are able to point out how it failed so badly last time and why doing the same thing again will be likely to bring similar results. That continuity and general common sense - not uncommon amongst civil servants by any means - are among the few things that curb the excesses of idiocy that any government is prone to, especially in later terms once they have run out of good ideas. An essential part of that is that the civil servants are entirely non-partisan, able to adapt to whoever the public chooses to elect. Otherwise they would be no better than SPADs.

This is why the Civil Service Code does, and always has, come down hard on expressing clear political views. Of course civil servants have them - anyone working around Whitehall following an election will be able to sense the atmosphere and probably garner some idea of how most people in the area feel about the outcome - but they need to be circumspect about expressing them in any way associated with their work.

The underlying problem here is that it seems as though there is a little ambiguity about how social networking relates to work - this seems to be a general thing, not related to government in particular - and consequently people are making statements that employers take to be inappropriate and nobody seems totally clear whether that is alright because it is a personal statement or not because it is in public and might be connected to the employer. Probably there are HR departments all over the country losing sleep over this problem right now, so I suppose it's not all bad.

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Re: Professionalism

The mistake you are making there is that "civil servant" is used interchangably with "Public Sector Worker". When the term civil servant is used it is not only for Whitehall staff its for pretty much every person employed in a government agency, this article specifically talks about people on the opposite side of the UK from Whitehall.

When I first started in the Civil Service/Public Sector my post was in DVLA keying in driver licence applications. It was a bottom rung job that involved opening mail, checking the application, keying it and issuing the driver's licence. Its impossible to let any form of political bias affect your job because its so robotic and mundane. Who's in power doesn't change how you key in a form or answer a customer query unless that person changes the forms and the answer you give.

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Anonymous Coward

Not really

Once you get up to certain level you become politically restricted,which means that public comment on political matters could affect your working relationship and/or credibility of your minister. It makes sense really as we elect politicians not civil servants. You can have views but expressing them or allowing them to affect your work isn't on.

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Facepalm

No need for "the" in front of Llywodraeth Cymru.

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Bloody hoi polloi.

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Trollface

A handkerchief might be useful, though.

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FAIL

Yes, to be honest when I hear of a company that has punished a staff member for this then i immediately note down in my mind to avoid that company, both for employment opportunity and also if possible for the things they provide/produce. In my mind it isnt the comments that make them look bad, its the actions to try and suppress what people think that makes them look bad.

Does anybody really believe that everybody (or even anybody) at a company or organisation is always happy and agrees with everything the organisation believes? I certainly don't believe this. Trying to create clone workforce where dissent and thought outside the corporate mandate is frankly scary and absurd!

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Headmaster

<----- Geraint, you chose the wrong icon :)

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Big Brother

I can't see it in the story...

But I presume that these comments made on the social media sites of the Government departments concerned, rather than their own personal feeds or profiles?

If on the Government ones, then well... what did they expect. But if these were made on their own profiles and feeds and outside of working hours then I think a ban surely infringes some rights to freedom of speech and/or expression? Civil service code or not.

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Re: I can't see it in the story...

Posting on facebork is not like venting to a few friends down the pub - unless you have locked down your profile tighter than the proverbial ducks arse. It's more like yelling your opinion from the national newspapers.

You dont bring your employer into disrepute in a public place if you want to keep your job!

It's not rocket science.

But as this is the public sector its a slapped wrist not a firing offence.

Assumptions:

They list their employer and or job.

Their boss is a "friend".

They have a couple of hundred "friends" they have never met.

There is personally identifiable information in their profile.

They still don't understand they did anything wrong.

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FAIL

Re: I can't see it in the story...

The problem is, if every company had such a policy and took such steps there be no free political debate in society because all of the views publicly expressed would be those that are in fact censored by their employer.

Unless I make a comment clearly on behalf of the company then it is my own personal opinion and I am in now way brining the company into disrepute. Either way, you can't have it both ways, either we have freedom of expression or companies have freedom and of expression and individual people do not.

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Re: I can't see it in the story...

Nope its personal twitter and facebook feeds. My ex-employer DVLA had staff actively checking for DVLA being mentioned on Facebook and twitter to see if it was staff doing it.

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Keep it separate....

Surely it can't be hard? I never, ever, ever mention work on Facebook, not even "nearly home time" - similarly, I don't have anyone from work as a "Friend" on Facebook, no matter how well I get on with them.

I do this for the same reasons I don't sit at work and discuss the minutia of my home life - because my home life doesn't affect my work life and (slightly harder) vice-versa - I keep as much distance between the two as possible.

If you want to sit there and say "My Boss, Mr Edwards is a complete tosser & I stirred his tea with my winky" and that goes out so that "Mr Edwards" can be identified then don't be surprised when it gets back to him & you're in his office on Monday. Likewise, if you have the name of your firm on your profile, and you slate them online - don't be surprised to get a rollocking.

In fact, it's precisely because of things like this that most firms now have a "Social Media Policy" and if you're in breach of it you haven't got a leg to stand on.

Sure there's a right to free speech, but there's also a right to not be stupid.

E-D

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Re: Keep it separate....

Fair call but specific examples were not given and the types of things mentioned were rather broad (besides 'dissing' a colleague). Posting X is a twat on facebook should not be a sackable offense unless you appear to be making a statement on behalf of your employer or perhaps do it on works time.

Should you expect a slap? Probably.

Expressing an opinion such as Y political party have screwed the economy and Z politician voted himself another payrise for services to undershagged secrataries, thats fair game assuming you are telling the truth. Employers should not be able to dictate your thoughts outside of work. Should you break a law (libel , slander etc) then the courts can deal with it. Employers should not be able to take an extrajudicial route to silencing people saying things they just don't like.

The civil service code is routed in the 1800's when we needed good, solid reliable but not too clever chaps to be DO's in our empire. Chaps who were in th 1st XV, could hold a straight bat and knew which fork to eat with but weren't prone to bouts of intelligence. Head boys but not with a 1st other than in lit. It just doesn't work today. If it isn't actually illegal and isn't done as a representative of the employer then they should have no recourse.

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Re: Keep it separate....

In fact you do have a leg to stand on, its just not been properly tested yet. A company doesn't have a legal right to fire you for non legal reasons. If you take it to court that its an erosion of your freedom of speech and encroachment into your private life then you very much have a leg to stand on, if they have already dismissed you, for unfair dismissal. Just because a company makes a policy doesn't mean its legally enforceable, just the same as licence agreements are not always legally enforceable, saying something doesn't make it so.

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Re: Keep it separate....

I used to post on usenet with a signature line "I work for x, but x is in no way responsible for my opinions" . Never had any trouble with the bosses at x.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Keep it separate....

Well, the internet has changed so much since the earlier days.

I once posted an email to another organisation, from my current organisation (at the time) and likened the other org. to the Gestapo for their behaviour. (I mentioned it was my personal opinion - albeit I had formed that opinion as an employee holding a trusted position with inside information effectively).

I copied in their entire customer base.

I got a 'tut tut' and nothing more was said.

These days I would probably be hung, drawn and quartered, then set on fire for good measure.

We have lost so much already.

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Re: Keep it separate....

It's not always that simple. I've been hauled over the coals twice for something someone else totally unconnected with me has posted about an entirely separate situation but someone has thought was me posting about work or just making a comment that they thought was inappropriate.

Also on one occasion, back before web forums, on USENET, I posted a comment relating to a TV show (on a group about that TV show) which someone at work saw and thought related to a situation at work that I wasn't even aware of. I got pulled into a senior manager's office and grilled about it. Fortunately I'd videoed the episode the comment referred to and could bring it in the following day. In hindsight it was quite amusing, having to explain the premise of the show to a senior manager then put the video on and explain the comment.

Just because you are careful about what you post doesn't mean those around you will be as careful about what they read.

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FAIL

Two problems

1.) They were disciplined for breaking the rules about online behaviour - which might seem a bit harsh for comments that aren't too offensive (unless they were, in which case they should have been booted out anyway). BUT

2.) They were stupid enough to do it, knowing the consequences for their careers - do we really want such people running public services?

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Re: Two problems

1) Public Sector workers aren't allowed to discuss anything government related even if its nothing to do with them. Someone in DVLA can technically be fired for posting an opinion on housing benefit.

2) The vast majority of these people don't run public services, its lower grade jobs that process paperwork or deal with customer enquiries.

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Megaphone

When will people learn to control their verbal diarrhea

I've had clients I work with being fairly offensive begind my back on Twitter, completely unaware that I too can use the internet. My girlfriend narrowly avoided getting into trouble when a friend of hers decided Facebook was the best place to discuss her current boss / workplace.

Social media has been around for long enough now that people should realise what you should and shouldn't put on the internet without needing any training. The rule is straightforward enough - if you wouldn't say it to the bosses / customers face, don't post it on Facebook. People who don't realise this are either rude, stupid or both.

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Re: When will people learn to control their verbal diarrhea

The problem I have isn't that they were stupid enough to do it, its that doing it shouldn't be a problem in the first place. Freedom of expression and all that you know...unless you want to live in a world where by only companies can express freely and everyone else expresses what the companies want?

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Re: When will people learn to control their verbal diarrhea

So you want a world where a bank teller / shop assistant / workmate etc... can openly call you a dick to your face? They certainly have the right of "freedom of expression" to say that to you, but that right doesn't necessarily extend to getting to keep their job afterwards.

What about if they sent you an email instead? How about if it was a company-wide mailing list? Saying it publicly on the internet (where customers / colleagues can see it) isn't any different - you have the right of "freedom of expression" to be as rude and offensive as you like to whoever you like in exactly the same way that you do when speaking to them in person or through any other medium.

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It's 2013 ffs

This social media stuff has been around for a few years now and most organisations have rules governing its use. I would have thought any moderately bright person would know those rules and more importantly the unwritten one. Don't put anything anywhere on the net (not just FB and Twitter) that you wouldn't like your boss or a future employer to read. Oh, and for other numpties you could add the police, security services, spouse, partner and children, etc.

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Anonymous Coward

so what

not much of a punishment, banned from promotion for 1yr! Its difficult to get promoted in the civil service so its not much of a hardship. I've been promoted once from EO to HEO and that's in 14 years, I'm considering going for SEO but looking at the criteria my chances are pretty slim! Add to that you can only apply at a certain time during the year and you have to proof you've been working at the higher level for at least 1 year and you will continue to work at the higher level, it makes things tricky.

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Beware the posting of comments

Oh brave Commentators! Beware, aye, do, for the time shall yet come when commentating in the wrong way or at the wrong time may be punishable by higher penalties than the other foolish pranks you might otherwise engage in, such as smoking up, doing the odd line of c*ke, copying DVDs or even mugging the old lady who lives down the road.

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Stop the confusion

Stop confusing private sector employees and Civil Servants. One is employed by an individual, the other is in the employ of the entire country. There really is no comparison.

Employees of the private sector may get fired for dissing the company image on the Internet, but that is generally an act that disses the company image even more (even though it can additionally ruin said individual's prospect for finding work again).

Civil Servants DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT to comment on ANY aspect of the government, PERIOD. The advent of Social Media does not change this rule.

Civil Servants have the right to their opinions, obviously, but they have lost the right to express it in public when they accepted work with the government.

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" and a third got themselves in hot water by making political comments on a personal Facebook account."

Just because you are a Civil Servant you are not denied personal opinions and beliefs. Pascal Monett, above, may be right about Civil Servants not being allowed to comment about the government but a distinction can be made, I think, between 'The Government' and politics. So long as such opinions are expressed on personal accounts without identification to a government department, I cannot see where there is a problem.

Chris Cosgrove

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Anonymous Coward

The restrictions ARE all encompassing

Say you work as a Civil Servant doing analysis for implications of Industrial Policy in Wales.

Your nephew is disabled and his house has been adapted to help him live a normalise life, but, because of the loss of DLA (fraud rate 0.5 - cuts 20%) & the imposition of bedroom tax, he has to move to a smaller house without adaptation. He cannot afford to keep his car, and he loses his job.

Next stop ESA.

If our hypothetical Civil Servant were to comment on this, this would breach the regs

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