A common disclaimer for gov bloggers

There are a lot of discussions at the moment around guidance for civil servants on social media.

I think, as a community, we’re missing a trick here. Most of us have, in one form or another a disclaimer on our blogs. If we could agree to a common disclaimer for civil servants/gov consultants (or better yet public-sector staff world-wide) wouldn’t that put us in a situation where, as practitioners, we agree to hold our selves by a common set of standards and principles that reflect a commitment to being open, professional and part of a wider government community? Wouldn’t a common disclaimer lend itself to use across a wide range of social media tools? Couldn’t this be integrated into overarching guidance when it is released?

Or am I just being naive? What do others think?

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8 responses to “A common disclaimer for gov bloggers

  1. Funny you mention disclaimers as this afternoon I just put in a document for Free Australia Wireless a section titled “Disclaimer” where I disclose my relationship and employment with the Australian Government and that for the purposes of FAW I’m operating as an independent civilian and don’t represent the views of the Department I work for or the Australian Government etc.

    But in many cases my engagement with the web community and public outside of my direct role is related to my job and role as employee of the Australian Government.

    It’s a tough one though. I mean, I just heard a story last week about a someone in an Australian Government department who ruffled some feathers by simply trying to connect and collaborate with others in his profession within that very department!

    So I don’t know if it’s even possible to consider a common disclaimer. Sure, everyone adopting a template or the same text is one thing … but as far as membership to a set of principles and identifying with the group of “Rogue public servants playing with fire” … not sure that would be popular with many people.

    Hope that makes sense …

  2. Frankly, I don’t like the idea of a disclaimer, even though I use one.

    I’d rather know where the boundaries lie of what I can do and how I can do it, and within that be up front about who I am and what I do. I can see the value in stating – for the avoidance of doubt – that my opinions are personal and not a statement of government policy.

    Accepting that we speak as informed individuals rather than formal representatives, what we need now is clear permission or otherwise to use social media in our professional roles. And we need specific rules written for the modern world about what that permission covers.

    A code of professional ethics like this one could work, once we have that formal permission in place. If it’s formally agreed that civil servants are free to talk as individuals in these forums about their work, then we should work out how to speak in ways which promote public benefit, safeguard our own reputations and those of our employers.

    I’d see applicable law (copyright, libel, data protection etc) as the foundation of it, on top of which we develop guiding principles designed to build public trust in government through transparency, safeguard personal and legitimately secret official data, and adhere to a community spirit of constructive conversation designed to advance our collective knowledge.

  3. Justin, I can see the argument for a common disclaimer – I would just go a step further and say that the public sector shouldn’t disclaim content, at all.

    This practice hearkens back to the early days of the web when agencies (public and private sector) contracted people to manage their web content for them – and consequently didn’t trust them to do it right.

    In this day and age, there is no excuse for an agency to disclaim content on their corporate sites. As for social sites, if they are posting disclaimers there it suggests that they are still thinking of these sites as broadcast media…

  4. Steph, Jason, Nat – thanks for your comments, all good points.

    In the absence of guidance I thought it might make sense to have a common line, but perhaps its just easiest to make the distinction between my private views online and when I’m acting in an official capacity.

  5. Caught between thanking you for the link and calling the lawyers in to demand that you don’t call me a consultant! On the more important point, I think anything that supports public sector people in getting out, telling their stories and using their voices is welcome. If a disclaimer helps them feel that they have ‘permission’ to be real, then great, but it can’t take the place of real support, training and strategic help. I’ve always argued that most organisation have the policies in place to deal with inappropriate behaviour. What they don’t have is the positive programmes in place to ensure that people avoid that and can still tell their stories.
    As for us digital charabancs on the ‘outside’ (sic), my own HR department (me) has clear guidelines on what I write, I’m currently lobbying it for the real strategic support.

  6. I don’t think a common disclaimer will work, nor a “code of ethics” – you would be making too many assumptions about the motivations of the bloggers, as well as the particular political system within which they work (why do you think a log of govcomm bloggers come from Commonwealth countries?)

    While you linked to sosaidthe.org, my disclaimer on http://canuckflack.com/about/ is much more amusing.

    As for Jason’s point, you will notice that there is no disclaimer on http://blog.privcom.gc.ca . There are a lot of conditions, but no disclaimer.

  7. Ideally I would like to have no disclaimer – just thought it might make sense to adopt an expanded position before people are ‘told’ what to do…

  8. Pingback: Principles for online participation - guidance for Civil Servants « extended reach

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