From Facebook to LinkedIn, Reddit to Ravelry, Instagram to Tinder, @Work to Glassdoor, social media use plays a role in the personal lives of many BC Public Service (BCPS) employees. In 2010, the BCPS was the first public service in Canada to provide guidelines to employees for professional use of social media, the GCPE Guidelines for Government Use of Social Media by Public Service Employees. Since then, social media and the ways we use it have evolved, and the guidelines for official government social media use have been updated. This set of guidelines, the Social Media Guidelines for BC Public Service Employees, was created as a companion to the guidelines for government use, to address the many other uses of social media where employees need to consider their obligations as employees of the Province of British Columbia. Social media is a part of life that is not going away and continues to evolve. These guidelines will help employees make appropriate choices about the use of social media for personal use both in and out of the workplace and understand the potential impacts of its use in the context of their employment.
What’s the Same – Making Thoughtful Choices
Public service employees make thoughtful choices every day, for example about how to interact with colleagues, talk about work outside the workplace, and share information. When it comes to social media activity, the obligation to make those thoughtful choices remains the same. As public servants we must comply with all employment-related obligations at work and outside of work. These include standards for workplace behaviour, privacy, confidentiality, conflict of interest, serving impartially and political activity as outlined in Standards of Conduct for Public Service Employees – Human Resources Policy 09, the Oath of Employment, and HR Policies (e.g. Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace – Policy 11); standards for the Appropriate Use of Government Information and Information Technology Resources; the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA); and the Election Act. The BC Public Service as the employer must comply with legislation that regulates workplace behaviour, such as the BC Human Rights Code and WorkSafeBC legislation.
The obligations in these policies and legislation apply to social media use, including employees’ personal accounts unaffiliated to the workplace. Just as the Standards of Conduct apply to employee conduct outside of work, so they apply to social media use outside of work. Employees shouldn’t speak out at protest rallies using their public service job to lend weight to their opinions – nor should they be doing that on Twitter or Reddit.
At the same time, what we say and do online is different in some key ways: for example, it can reach bigger and broader audiences, and the steps we take to restrict audiences for our online activity are different than simply looking around to see who’s within earshot. Other differences to consider are:
- how quickly and easily words and images can be circulated, and reproduced as “soundbites” out of context;
- the long shelf life of online activity (extended by sites like The Wayback Machine);
- how fast social media platforms and how we use them evolve – e.g. privacy settings; and
- diversity in how people use and think about social media as a way of connecting with others.
What Do These Guidelines Cover?
There’s no new policy in this document: the purpose of these guidelines is to alert BC Public Service employees to key considerations, as public servants, when using social media for personal use to ensure conduct remains in keeping with the Standards of Conduct and other already-existing policies and guidelines.
This includes using social media:
- During the work day for personal use;
- Outside of work hours on your own computer or device (off duty conduct);
- About work (posting about your work or coworkers on your personal social media accounts);
- In potential conflict of interest situations;
- When using work equipment (e.g. social networking using your work-issued computer or cell phone);
- Where employees face harassment or bullying online because of their employment; and
- On workplace platforms like @Work.
Other Guidance on Social Media
For guidance on using social media for work on other topics, including guidance on stakeholder engagement, record-keeping, collection of third party information, and copyright, refer to the GCPE Guidelines for Government Use of Social Media by BC Public Servants.
As social media and how people use it evolves, so will these guidelines.