‘Motormouth civil servants’ need to remember that Facebook is public too

Lynn Enright

You may believe that your bar tender is a “w*****r” but, if you are a councillor who sits on a licensing committee, it’s not a good idea to publish your thoughts on Facebook. Cllr Louisa Thomson’s churlish status update ended up in the local paper under the headline “Hackney councillor slammed for foul-mouthed Facebook tirade on barstaff.”

But this week the Hackney Gazette website is back-pedalling, saying that Cllr Thomson has “overwhelming support from Gazette readers [who believe] she should not be attacked for comments made privately.”

Readers of the Gazette – I have news for you: Facebook is not private. The average Facebook user has over 120 “friends”, and we must assume that some of those are colleagues in positions of superiority, relatives who don’t want to hear about our drunken gripes, or people who will rat us out to the Hackney Gazette.

Quentin Letts raised the subject when he wrote about another Hackney motormouth, civil servant Sarah Baskerville, in the Daily Mail recently.

“A Whitehall official has been Tweeting about her drunkenness [and] boasting about how pointless she thinks some of her work is,” complained the columnist, before suggesting that her over-sharing might raise “security issues”.

Twitter jumped to the defence of Ms. Baskerville, and blogger Adrian Short undermined the Daily Mail article in – an admittedly very funny – piece, which you can read here.

I know that as a web-savvy 20-something who Tweets about my crush on Linford Christie and updates my Facebook friends on my love of Bloody Marys, I am expected to join the readers of the Gazette and the critics of Mr. Letts in campaigning for “free speech”.

But I can’t. I believe that we should keep schtum about our workplace hangovers and our pointless paperwork. Otherwise we risk appearing unprofessional.

A social worker friend of mine would never give Mr. Letts and his fellow columnists fodder by Tweeting about anything even remotely related to her work.

But equally, another friend at a new media company doesn’t discuss topics that could compromise him professionally on social networking sites.

We exchange emails about our hangovers, we discuss difficult clients over a coffee and we send text messages detailing the more tedious aspects of our jobs.

Facebook and Twitter are not private platforms so please refrain from tapping on the keyboard when you think your 140-character outpouring could cause  offence, or damage your reputation.

Councillors and civil servants are derided enough, without Ms. Baskerville (aka @baskers) and Ms. Thomson (aka @welovestokey) further undermining the important and valuable roles they play in our communities by posting careless, mindless rants.

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