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Risk, accountability and governance

To effectively use social media tools and platforms, APS agencies must ensure they have clear overarching strategies and sound governance structures. Agency requirements such as an ICT and/or social media strategy, appropriate policies and guidelines for use, established protocols for record keeping, risk identification, management and mitigation procedures, and plans for monitoring and evaluating outcomes, are key.

The State of the Service Agency Survey (agency survey) asked agencies to report on the guidance material provided to their employees on the use of social media and networking tools. Figure 4.4 shows that the majority of agencies provide guidance material for employees on the use of social media and networking tools for work (72%), personal use in a professional capacity (51%) and for other personal use (69%).

Figure 4.4. Agency guidance on using social media and networking tools, 2013–14

Source: Agency survey

The National Archives of Australia: Social media as government records

The National Archives of Australia (the Archives) is responsible for ensuring Australian Government agencies meet records management obligations under the Archives Act 1983 to support government accountability, as well as the preservation of and access to valuable government records that reflect Australia's cultural heritage.

Since 2011, the Archives has been leading the implementation of the Australian Government's Digital Transition Policy which aims to move agencies to digital information management for efficiency purposes. This includes ensuring that records created digitally, whether in business systems, dedicated records management systems, or even on social media platforms, can be preserved for accountability purposes or for access by future generations of Australians.

The State of the Service Report 2012–13 indicated that 75% of Australian Government agencies are using social media to support business outcomes. The most commonly reported tools were Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Additional channels included YouTube, LinkedIn and webcasts.

Maintaining important information in social media environments can be challenging as they are third-party owned and often hosted in the Cloud. Most user agreements for social media platforms indicate that no responsibility is taken for preserving content placed on a platform by users. Left to itself, social media content will not survive forever—worryingly, it may not survive to be accessible under legal discovery—in fact it may not even survive to contribute to the annual report.

As the lead agency for information management in the Australian Government, the Archives take an exemplar approach to ensuring that social media is ‘on the record’. This includes:

  • its corporate plan acknowledging the importance of information in supporting an accountable, efficient and effective government
  • its information and records management strategic framework recognising information and records as a key business asset, and a corporate resource that is fundamental to the Archives' governance
  • its information management strategy incorporating social media in its scope
  • practical procedures being available to assist employees in capturing social media records.

The Archives engages with the public on a number of social media platforms including Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube. Records of this engagement are captured in its corporate records management system using a range of approaches including taking screenshots, saving email notifications, and maintaining a spreadsheet of approved posts.

The Archives' Forced Adoptions History Project provides an interesting example of social media as government records. In March 2013, the Archives was tasked with developing a website, exhibition and education programme to increase awareness and understanding of experiences of individuals affected by forced adoption practices. In the early stages of this project, a Facebook page was established to identify people who had been affected by the practices and policies of forced adoption in Australia and encourage sharing of experiences. Given the sensitive nature of the issue, some inappropriate comments that did not meet the stated ‘rules of engagement’ were posted on the Facebook page. Although these comments were removed, in line with the terms of the Facebook page, a copy of the comments was captured in the Archives' corporate records management system.

Keeping a record of social information exchanges ensures that the Archives is accountable and maintains transparent business processes, even when working in dynamic social spaces. And while not everything can or should be kept forever, records of higher value will be preserved for future generations of Australians, long after the social media platforms themselves have disappeared.

Personal use of social media by APS employees

The APS Values encourage APS employees to engage effectively with the community and provide clients with appropriate information. Social media provides APS agencies with a quick and popular means for facilitating this engagement. At the same time, however, employees must remain mindful of the limits on their ability to disclose information under legislation such as the Privacy Act 1988 and Public Service Regulation 2.1, and of the requirement to act in a professional manner in all dealings.

The use of social media and online networking tools by APS employees outside of work continues to be a matter of uncertainty for some agencies and employees. Enquiries to the Ethics Advisory Service indicate that some employees are uncertain about the connection between work and the requirement to uphold the APS Values, the integrity and good reputation of their agency and the APS and, in particular, what this means for their use of social media. The dismissal of an employee of one APS agency for using Twitter to criticise colleagues is one example, although it is equally clear from matters coming before the Fair Work Commission and the courts that this issue arises for employers and employees in different sectors of the economy.

Many agencies have developed social media policies to provide clarity on this. The Commission also provides advice to agencies and employees on the considerations that apply when employees make public comment in a private capacity, including online. Given the popular use of social media with young Australians, having induction programmes in place for graduates and other new entrants that articulate APS behavioural expectations and the potential agency reputational risks associated with the personal use of social media by APS employees is key.

The majority of employee census respondents indicated their agency provided a specific social media policy on the private use of social media by APS employees (72%). This is consistent with results from the 2014 agency survey, where 69% of agencies reported they provided guidance to their employees on how to represent themselves using social media for personal or home use (excluding in a professional capacity).

A substantial proportion of employees, however, did not know what material their agency provided (23%). Ten per cent reported their agency provided formal training on the personal use of social media and a small proportion (3%) indicated they were not aware the APS Values and Code of Conduct applied to the private use of social media.

Maintaining an online presence and making comments online is a common practice in the Australian community. Like other citizens, APS employees make public comments on, for example, social networking sites, blogs and online news sites. Interaction between the private lives of APS employees and their work can be complex. APS employees are citizens and members of the community, but the right to serve the community as APS employees comes with certain responsibilities. These responsibilities include maintaining the confidence of the community that the APS can deliver services on behalf of the government professionally and impartially.

The same principles apply to online comment as to any other kind of public comment—as do the APS Values, Employment Principles and Code of Conduct, including Public Service Regulation 2.1 (duty not to disclose information).


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Footnotes

10 This question was not asked in the 2014 State of the Service agency survey.