Civil servants have been told not to use their social media posts to “undermine” their minister, their department or the government, including ‘liking’ or ‘not liking’ certain posts.
A social media communications policy issued to Department of Housing staff and those working in State agencies under its remit reminds them of an obligation to be impartial.
They have been told not to post their political preferences or views, including on referendums; not to post, endorse or comment on domestic or foreign political campaigns; not to engage in political debate; and to remain apolitical in online posts and engagement.
The policy adds: “Do not use social media accounts to undermine the minister, the department, the government or government policy. This includes commenting on/‘liking’, ‘not liking’ or otherwise, endorsing or appearing to endorse any political or public policy related issues online.”
The department clarified that ‘not liking’ refers to “the use of any current or future dislike option available on social media channels”.
It said it had issued an updated social media policy to staff in 2020. It has only been circulated to some staff in recent days.
“This included information on social media as it relates to the work of the department, using social media to increase understanding, enhance engagement and improve transparency and access, rules around the creation and management of the department’s social media accounts, ensuring the security of the department’s social media sites as well as personal social media accounts,” a spokesman said.
He said staff’s personal use of social media is not monitored and its own social media channels are not monitored for staff engagement, adding: “Staff are expected to abide by the requirements and are aware that any breach of the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour may result in disciplinary action.”
The Department of Public Expenditure said departments “tailor social media policy to their own use of social media and range of accounts and channels” and that the Civil Service Code, which debars all civil servants above clerical level from engaging in political activity, applies.
“We do not monitor the social media accounts of our staff,” a spokeswoman added.
RISE TD Paul Murphy questioned why public sector workers should have their free speech curtailed, saying: “The instruction not to ‘undermine’ the minister or government by liking things on social media is Orwellian.”