Social media icons montagePublic sector beware: How it has become too easy to broadcast our private thoughts in the public sphere using social media.

An examination of public sector organisational and employee preparedness in light of a communications digital revolution.

Conclusion to my MSc study

The researcher of this study has underlined the view of theorists that the emergence of the mass media and Internet technologies have led users to be part of a network that has blurred the boundary between the private and public spheres.

No longer are they simply consumers and passive spectators, they are now creators and even the primary subject within the media network, creating and defining a new definition of democracy and freedom of speech.

Amongst the encouragement to use social media channels and the low entry requirements, there is no buyer beware message.  This study has identified that guidance around the use of social media channels by public sector staff for professional and personal purposes is variable.

Even where it is in place, guidance is not robust enough to prevent ‘oversharing’ of unsuitable or offensive private thoughts and opinions, particularly on personal accounts.  It is evident that consequences such as adverse media coverage or disciplinary action that has led to staff being dismissed or struck off is a regular and increasing occurrence.

Undoubtedly public sector PR professionals have a role to play in providing support, guidance and most importantly, training, as gatekeepers and bastions of high standards.  The researcher hopes that some of the findings and recommendations from this study will form a purposeful starting point for the review or development of guidance within the public sector – or indeed elsewhere where the need is identified.

Despite the need for guidance or policy to guide social media use, recriminations for poor behaviour should not be dealt in a heavy handed manner.  Ultimately social media channels are outstanding tools for engagement and interaction across communities with common interests, where debate is free and views can be shared publicly but with sound, ethical decision making at their heart.

Brooker (2012) derides how social media is an invention that resembles more of a millstone than a breakthrough, likening Twitter to a Mogwai from the movie Gremlins.  “It was a fun and harmless companion, unless you got it wet (which caused it to multiply), or fed it after midnight (which turned it into a destructive, sociopathic demon). It was easy to inadvertently ‘misuse’ – and in doing so could quickly spiral out of control and ruin your life. Every Twitter user has, in effect, been sold a digital Mogwai minus the instruction sheet.”

He concludes by suggesting that a friendly highway code for social media is needed containing three simple rules; one of which is: “don’t be a dick.”

© Gillian Neild, 2015