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Angry-face emoji ban a ‘plan to silence critics’: union

Tasmania is the latest jurisdiction to update public service social media guidelines leaving no room for personal political speech — even if they do not identify themselves online as state sector employees.

After two years in development, proposed new social media guidelines for Tasmania’s state sector employees won’t clear the final hurdle with their main union’s blessing.

In a statement this week, the Community and Public Sector Union General Secretary Tom Lynch said the proposed code would in effect ban the state’s public servants from any critical political speech, describing it as “an extreme overreach”.

Feedback on the proposed guidelines — the breaching of which may result in disciplinary action under the Code of Conduct — remains open one more week, until August 15.

“This is an overarching policy now designed to clamp down on all public sector workers and to really make them concerned about being terminated if they participate in the social debate that our community has around issues,” Lynch said.

“This policy seeks to not only silence public servants from talking about issues that they’re concerned about in their own agency but any public sector at all.”

Liking, sharing, or subscribing to online groups relating to politics could all breach the new code. Anonymity may not be enough, the draft guidelines state:

“Employees may not have identified themselves as public servants but many people now have a digital footprint that makes it easy to find out who is who and, often, where they work.

“Posting material anonymously or using a pseudonym does not guarantee one’s identity will stay hidden.

“An employee’s capacity to affect the reputation of their agency and the State Service does not stop when they leave the office. The comments they make after hours can make people question their ability to be impartial, respectful and professional when they are at work.”

The draft guidelines remind employees that it is always a breach of the Code of Conduct to criticise the work or administration of an agency, and every email sent from a work computer is tracked.

The draft expands on the existing rules by also covering criticism of a minister or premier, including shadow ministers, as well as clarifying whether emojis count as comment — they do.

Whichever side of politics is criticised, such comment “is likely to raise concerns about the employee’s impartiality and undermine the integrity and reputation of the agency and the state service generally,” the guidelines state. Sharing has much the same effect, it adds.

Jenny Gale, secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, said in a statement that there had been no instruction by the government on the matter, nor involvement in the development of the consultation draft. She says the work arose out of discussions between the unions and the State Service Management Office in 2016.

“The intention is to produce policy and guidance that allows employees to participate and interact with the world through technology, while ensuring behaviour is consistent with the State Service Act 2000, State Service Code of Conduct and agency values,” Gale said.

Update: Premier Will Hodgman has responded to the concerns:

“The draft social media policy has a number of unintended consequences that are clearly out of step with community expectations,” Hodgman said today.

“I have asked the Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Director of the State Service Management Office to review the draft and ensure a common sense approach prevails in any final policy.”

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The Mandarin

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