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7 social media myths

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Civil servant using iPhoneWe recently updated the guidance for using digital and social media. Digital channels and techniques are increasingly important ways for civil servants to engage and interact with the audiences we all serve. However, it’s vital that we’re aware of the pitfalls and risks, and what can happen when things go wrong.

The social media guidance is there to provide support and clarity about what to watch out for when going online, but you should also read your own department’s policy on social media use.

Here are 7 social media myths to watch out for:

Myth 1 - The Civil Service Code doesn’t apply online

Remember, the same high levels of propriety are expected of civil servants online as they are in any other context. If it’s not right to say something in the real world, then it’s probably also the case on social media. Keeping this in mind will help you post with confidence online.

Myth 2 - If we do something wrong online it can always be deleted

We leave digital ‘footprints’ wherever we go. This can range from someone taking a screengrab, through to Wikipedia keeping the IP addresses of all those who have edited a page with details of what changes were made. So bear that in mind before posting something that could be contentious.

Myth 3 - There are too many rules using social media, so it’s best not to bother with it

Digital is a vital way for us to engage with our audiences. We should continue to engage and connect online. The social media guidelines are designed to give clarity so we can use social media with confidence and maintain the highest levels of propriety expected of us as civil servants.

Myth 4 - It doesn’t matter what you say outside working hours

As civil servants we must adhere to the highest levels of propriety at all times. The Civil Service Code makes clear what is expected of staff.

Myth 5 - Government computers don’t have an IP address

An IP address is the unique identifier for a computer, router or network. This means that inappropriate digital updates can be traced back to government computer systems. Individual devices can then also be pinpointed. Remember that by connecting a personal device (such as a laptop, tablet or smartphone) to a government wifi network, any inappropriate publication could still be traced back to a government IT system.

Myth 6 - You can’t use social media at work: Most of us have no restrictions on accessing social media at work

Lines have become blurred between activity in our working lives and elsewhere. That’s a good reason why we need to maintain the highest levels of propriety at all times. Some departments have restrictions about exactly what devices can be used in the workplace. It’s best to check with your own department about any restrictions so you can use social media with confidence.

Myth 7 – You can’t have a Twitter account you use for professional and personal purposes

It’s usually perfectly acceptable to use the same Twitter account for our lives both inside and outside work. As long as everything we do adheres to the Civil Service Code and any other restrictions specific to your job, then we are free to use it to tweet as usual . This can be from life outside work as well as being an effective way to reach out to our professional stakeholders. Beware that mentioning “views are my own, not my organisation” on your Twitter biography is no defence against tweeting something inappropriate.

You can follow the Civil Service twitter account @UKCivilService and Anthony on @anthonysimon

Note: Title changed to '7 deadly myths' as the article is about myth-busting rather than reinforcing negative behaviour

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  1. Comment by Thomas Brown posted on

    Being an Officer of the Crown implies some sensitivity, sensibility and sense ('common sense'). I am not convinced that the explanations behind Myths 3 & 7 actually support the argument! I think that Myths 3 & 7 support Myths 3 & 7 being valid factual considerations! If Social Media is personal and the impact of it can be felt across a persona (in both private and working lives), then use it at your peril! I have absolutely no reason to engage with it at all, other than to suggest that it is a frivolity. But of course, I accept that for our business, it could be a useful source of intelligence data!

  2. Comment by J O'Neill posted on

    In the eyes of many "we" are a legitimate target, our products and data are sought after by many local organisations, and foreign intelligence services, organised criminals and terrorists for nefarious reasons. Broadcasting where we work leaves "us" open to contact, theat, intimidation or inducement by 'threat actors' and for the Organisation it could be a starting point for infiltration. Have a look at the advice on the Centre for the Protection of the National Infrastructure (CPNI) website. Social Engineering: Understanding The Threat

  3. Comment by S Searle posted on

    These days we are under a constant barrage of media and saddo's drivel. For goodness sake don't let us have the Civil Service encouraging us to use it in order to engage with our audiences The message should be turn off Facebook, tune out Twitter and get a life. Either that or walk into a lamp post.

  4. Comment by Shaun Peck posted on

    My advice is this,

    If you hesitate and question yourself before pressing the Return, Enter, Send button, then it possibly means that your best not to send it and maybe get someone else to read it first prior to sending. Remember what we say in the real world and how we say it can mean the message is taken the way you want it to be taken.

    But a text message, email or post on Social Media has no way of expressing whit or sarcasm. Even a message with a 😉 or an LOL at the end doesn't mean it will be taken that way.

    PS LOL doesn't mean Lots of Love as a certain Prime Minister found out, so even the high flyers cannot always get social media etiquette correct at all times

  5. Comment by A M Hill posted on

    Social Media to my mind is more a Social Disease

  6. Comment by Andy Gordon posted on

    I've happily managed to avoid the need to use Facebook and Twitter at home. God forbid I am ever required to use it for work.

  7. Comment by Neil Sutherland posted on

    To be fair, probably both!

  8. Comment by Taavi Sepp posted on

    Talk of IP addresses and digital footprint escapes many. Our collective understanding is limited and attention span very short.

    I have advised my colleagues to bear in mind that "If you are uncomfortable shouting your message from the rooftop, don't voice it in social media" and "when in the pub after fifth pint feeling bullish and in need to desperately respond to that tweet, sleep on it until sober". Saves face and potentially job.

  9. Comment by David Childs posted on

    Myth1: The Civil Service Code is only part of the story. In itself, the Civil Service Code only really governs how we work. However, the Civil Service Management Code ( is equally applicable and much more wide-ranging.

  10. Comment by Neil Sutherland posted on

    Surely it's probity that we most need to maintain rather than propriety?

    While I'm at it, I hope no civil servant would be so illiterate as to write, 'Views are my own, not my organisation'.