I haven’t heard if there are any repercussions to the DomPost story, broken by The Standard and picked up Russell B, about the extensive editing of wikipedia by someone behind the parliamentary IP address. I know that there are some questions about the censoring of explicitly political (or more accurately, politically sensitive information), but I won’t be broaching them here.

What I’m interested in is the use of social media by public servants.

While some might of the opinion that public servants should not use social media, this opinion is usually held by persons who don’t like the idea of having public servants at all. The old, “cut the public service to the quick” types. And frankly, if you’re of this opinion then stop reading in a little bit, because you’ll never be convinced. I think all I can say is that I don’t hear you people complaining about the guys at the bank, or at the insurance company using the net. And, they’re employed by your dollar as well…

However, I am of the type that prefers to see people around him actually working. There’s nothing like a couple of decades in service and manufacturing to get you used to putting in hours of hard labour. When I first started in white-collar work I thought that every single person I saw was basically… lazy. I soon came round when I saw people putting the 12-hour days, and understood better when I did a few myself.

The thing about the internet is, not being a smoker, it’s hard to get away from the desk and stretch the legs without bothering my colleagues. If there’s anything I hate it’s some numnut walking up for a chat when I’m concentrating hard on trying to get some wording right. So, instead I browse the web when I need to “micropause”. That or go get another cup of tea/coffee.

This is probably the right time to introduce you to a story. After I’d been a former employer about 9 months I was hauled into my manager’s office . There was also an HR person. They both looked a little serious. I, naturally, became wary.

During this meeting I was told that there were some concerns about my internet usage. I was shocked! What the hell! How much internet had I been using? Did that one page on some English daily featuring Shane Warne and two topless young ladies someone get reported? (I had closed the window as soon as I realised it was NSFW).

Well, it turns out that my internet usage had topped the allowable limit for my unit in the Department. Again, shocked. How much had I been using to warrant a meeting with manager and HR?!

An average of twenty minutes a day.

Yup, you read that right, twenty minutes.

What this meant is that if I got up and walked away from my computer for an hour and left stuff.co.nz open, it counted against my usage. In management’s defence, a lot of employees would go over the limit, but I guessed that I was probably one of the worst, so got brought in for a chat.

And during that chat I was told to find something to do to distract myself when I needed a break… something that couldn’t be measured by the second. Maybe take up smoking?

So, how does this relate to social media? A man’s got to have something to look at on the net during that twenty minutes!

But seriously. If you’re plonked in front of a computer all day you will, inevitably, use the internet. The proviso is that you use it responsibly, as warrants your occupation as professional. Moreover, there are voices that encourage the appropriate use of the internet and social media as tools for the public service.

To balance the expectation that you use the resource reasonably, you need to maintain transparency at all times. To do that, you need to use your own name when you’re using social media like blogs or wikis. Never, ever hide behind an “anonymous” (or worse, anonymouse) IP address or pseudonym. Some people have good reasons for using them, but I can’t imagine a single situation in which a public servant would need to. If you’re up to something dodgy at work, and trying to be sneaky, you will get caught, and spanked.

Doubtless the ICT department up at parliament has already trawled their records, and the exact persons who resulted in the DomPost article have been spoken to already, if not only for bringing their workplace into (minor) disrepute.

And would using real names have prevented this? Probably not. But then, if you’re thinking of editing a wiki about tanks and your favourite band on work time? You should think again. If you still think it’s a good idea, then using your real name is better for your workmates…