The Victorian Privacy Commissioner Helen Versey has laid down guidelines for Victorian government organisations to follow when using social media networks, to ensure that they are aware of privacy issues and the potential for embarrassment.
The social networking information sheet, released yesterday, covers 10 matters that government organisations need to consider when using or proposing to use social networking services.
Among these, the guidelines state that government organisations should allow individuals to remain anonymous where practicable, and that if it needs to collect any information from users, it notifies users, collects the minimum information required and ensures that it is secured and disposed of in an appropriate manner.
The guidelines additionally warn of the pitfalls of using social networking, recommending that discussions be held off social networks where appropriate, to avoid embarrassment to the organisation.
"There have been many examples of social networking 'gaffes' resulting from an individual not understanding messaging systems and publicly displaying their intended 'private' message. These gaffes are often widely reported in the media, and result in significant embarrassment for the individual or organisation," the guidelines read.
The guidelines also touch on whether government employees should be allowed to interact with the public via their personal social networking accounts due the danger of unintentional or incorrect statements rapidly being shared and damaging the organisation's reputation.
"Social networking does not necessarily rely on accuracy like traditional forms of media, and so an incorrect statement can 'go viral' within a matter of minutes."
One other warning that the guidelines provides is that once organisations make a commitment towards social networking, it should ensure that it has the appropriate resources to follow through. The guidelines state that due to the shorter times between responses on social networks, and the expectation that feedback is delivered outside of normal work hours, there will be a need to dedicate increased resources. It says that a failure to allocate these resources would diminish the advantages of social networking, while increasing the privacy risks to the organisation.
The guidelines come at a convenient time for government, as Google moves Google+ from a field trial and into beta, opening the social network to the general public and without the need for an invite.