It really is quite simple.
If you wouldn’t have said it before there were social media, don’t say it now just because there are.
If you work for an organisation, don’t be rude about its leaders, products or policies in public.
Don’t imagine that online anonymity is an invisibility cloak.
If you work in the public sector, social media does not remove the politics from the politically contentious.
None of that is new. None of that should be even faintly surprising. There are ways in which online is another world. These rules are not among them.
But it still happens. Civil servants should understand the constraints they accept as part of the job. They – and everybody else – should understand the limitations on public speech (not quite the same thing) which are part of the deal.
Now there is reported (from a slightly unlikely source) a new case of somebody allegedly using twitter to make inappropriate political comments. As reported, that sounds remarkably like the Civil Serf affair in 2008.
Why is this hard? The excuse that social media are too new for anyone really to know the rules is wearing a bit thin. But I do think – as I wrote last time some of these issues came up – that twitter can be particularly beguiling, precisely because it plays so many different roles:
For twitter in particular, there is a very strange collision of contexts. It is like being in the pub with some friends, being at speakers’ corner shouting at (and being heckled by) random passers by, being on the Today programme, being on Big Brother, and throwing a message in a bottle out to sea – all at once.
But while that may explain, it does not explain away or justify.
In the end, it really is quite simple.