Government 2.0 is in danger of being bogged down by public servants having to moderate "passionate" comments from the public railing against the government's planned mandatory internet filter, according to Govt 2.0 taskforce members.
As part of the Govt 2.0 initiative, the Australian Public Service (APS) has been encouraged to communicate via blogs and social media. The Department of Finance and Deregulation and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship have both released social media policies for department employees.
At the CeBIT e-government forum held in Sydney today, Mia Garlick, assistant secretary for the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE), said her department was one of the first government departments to put up a blog, and said that while the comments received were "passionate", they were rarely on-topic.
"The majority of people who posted comments on that blog discussed the government's internet filtering policy," she said. "A large number of people also told us our blog was terrible and didn't look like a blog, which was great feedback, but [only] a very small proportion of people actually responded to the topics that we talked about."
Garlick said government agencies needed to limit the amount of time devoted to blog maintenance.
"We're not a moderation company, we're not a blog hosting company, we're not YouTube — that can have infrastructure to host user-generated content," she said, noting the blog comments were a drain on DBCDE resources. "We were constantly moderating that because there was such a passionate response and so that took a lot of resources," she said.
Glenn Archer, chief information officer for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) and fellow Govt 2.0 taskforce member, said that the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) didn't check the comments from the public before they were put up.
"The comments made are post-moderated, meaning they appear online automatically unless they get captured by the spam filter and if necessary, they can be edited or pulled down at a later time," he said. "We found this a better way to encourage actual conversation rather than have all comments vetted."
Archer said the challenge came from encouraging hesitant public servants, who came from a culture where public servants were not allowed to speak out at all, to the online commenting environment.
"As a public servant it's not a natural act to be out there blogging with citizens, we have to learn how to do that."
Archer said public servants have to be aware of what "role" they are occupying when commenting online, whether it is in an official capacity, or just as an individual citizen. He noted, however, that higher-level APS employees did not have that luxury.
"I'm not just a citizen, I have to be conscious of what I say will be reported. The complex thing is trying to explain to public servants that in embracing this opportunity they have to understand what their role is."
In his pre-recorded opening address to the forum, Federal Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner reaffirmed that the government's commitment to the majority of the recommendations from the Government 2.0 report. One of the recommendations, he said, was that the government should make a formal statement of commitment to openness and that he will make that statement in the next few weeks.
Tanner said he was "particularly delighted" that this year's budget papers were able to be released online under creative commons licence for the very first time "apart from a few small exceptions".