Thursday, September 12, 2013

Should councils run their mayor's social accounts or agencies their Minister's?

It is rare but not unheard off for Mayors (or other Councillors) to ask council officials to run their Facebook, Twitter or other social media accounts - or for State or Federal Ministers to ask agencies to run their social accounts for them.

This can raise challenges for council staff and public servants - where may this cross the line from apolitically to political?

From my perspective this is a matter where a council or agency needs to draw a clear line between the position and person of an elected official.

There's no issue with a council running social media accounts for the Office of the Mayor, or for an agency running the social media account for a Prime Minister or Minister where that account is the respective property of the council or government and is used to post factual and non-partisan information.

However if these accounts are to be held in the name of a particular office holder - an individual politician - or are to be used for political or electoral posts,  there's no way a council or agency can run these accounts without damaging its reputation for being apolitical.

In these cases, where a Mayor or Minister asks for social media accounts that they intend to use in a personal and/or political manner, councils and agencies have to be prepared to step up and say no.

I know of a few cases across Australia where this hasn't happened - the area is still too new, and some public officials do not yet fully comprehend the difference between apolitical and political social media accounts.

The media has also been slow to grasp the distinction and hasn't yet called many public organisations to account for inappropriate operation of Councillor or Ministerial social media accounts, although I have begun getting calls from journalists who are interested in learning which are the right questions to ask.

This is another good reason why senior public officials need to be across the risks and opportunities that arise from social media. Knowing when to say no to a Mayor or Minister to protect the reputation and apolitical standing of their council or agency is part of their job.

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