Coalition 'gags' staffers from social media: the reality of modern politics


By Isabelle Walker

It has been reported that the Federal Coalition has instructed its political staffers they will be prohibited from posting their political opinions on their personal social media accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook.
While this has been met with accusations that North Korea is more transparent than the current government and that the policy resembles what you would expect from a real life Orwellian dystopia (courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald readers' comments), it would be prudent to examine this policy within the complicated context from which it comes.

These days, everything is about image. No benign remark goes unnoticed and the 24 hour internet news cycle, padded mostly by relevant though disposable news snippets, is ever fed by high profile gaffes, ill-thought out assertions and conjecture. 

It is within this minefield of online scrutiny that political affiliates are watched carefully, ready to be caught as soon as they stray one iota from the politically correct line that they are instructed (and expected) to toe.

This, possibly unfortunate but undeniably necessary, is the reality of modern politics. With the heralding of the online era, citizens have the chance to become personally involved in reportage of news and current affairs. There were live blogs and tweets during former PM Rudd’s removal and reinstatement, and the best place to gather up-to-date electoral information on the night of the September 2013 Federal Election was Twitter, not the ABC. 

However, amongst the constant barrage of #hashtags and 140-character apropos of nothing, an overzealous scrutiny of the political sphere has rendered autonomous humans unable to independently express themselves, even with disclaimers that their views are their own and not those of their employer. 

It is within this context that it is completely understandable for any organisation to instruct its employees to exercise caution and discernment for what they post to potentially billions of people, opinions that are never able to be retracted or forgotten, which leave an indelible mark in cyberspace. 

Not only is making personal statements about your workplace or the industry you exist in arguably unprofessional but potentially extremely damaging to you and your organisation. 

The social media policy enacted by the Coalition is modelled directly on the one administered by the Rudd government in 2007. It banned political commentary on personal social media sites. In addition to Rudd’s policy is the clause which prohibits publication of online commentary, material, books or articles relating to any ministerial portfolios or the Abbott Government. 

Though it would be ideal for any person to express their political opinion without that opinion being a reflection of their employer, it is not realistic. 
Your social media presence, like your professional behaviour, language, dress and demeanour, reflects your employer. The policy merely attempts to prevent the opportunity for anyone to distract from more important issues such as formulating successful policy and running the country. 

The idea that the government is on a mission to curb transparency within its ranks, a charge likely to be brought by the social media collective, is a stretch. Just as any corporation or company would be entitled to do, so too will the government ask that their staff reflect the values, prudence and professionalism that one would expect from the group of people in charge of running the country. 

Besides, if they are doing their job correctly, their political stance should shine through in their work, not their micro-blog.