Border Protection forces Facebook content removal through Twitter

The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection has defended using its Twitter account to ask a member of the public to remove a post from her personal Facebook page.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) has succeeded in having a member of the public remove a post from her Facebook wall that a spokesperson has said targeted a staff member within the department.

On Friday, in a series of Tweets from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection's official Twitter account, the department asked Vanessa Powell, a teacher and a volunteer on community radio, to remove a Facebook post that "contains an offensive remark directed at a staff member" from a man named George Georgiadis.

Image: Screenshot by Josh Taylor/ZDNet

ZDNet understands that the post has since been removed at the request of the department, and Powell herself has not said anything more about the incident since it occurred. The action by the department was, however, picked up by others on Twitter and Reddit on Saturday, with some calling the action "intimidatory", and an attempt at censorship. Others labelled the tweets as a threat to Powell.

The department's Twitter account trended in Australia that evening.

But despite the controversy, the department is standing by its actions, stating that the Facebook post in question targeted a member of staff in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

"The Department of Immigration and Border Protection stands by its position that staff carrying out their duties professionally and lawfully should not be the subject of baseless and unfounded personal attacks. While discourse about government policy, the department and departmental programmes is to be expected, such commentary should not unfairly malign the integrity of public servants," a spokeswoman for the department told ZDNet.

"In this instance, the department made a request to a Facebook account owner on April 4, bringing to her attention a comment on one of her posts — which at the time could be viewed publicly — contained an offensive remark directed at a DIBP staff member. The department requested that it be removed immediately."

The spokeswoman would not confirm what was contained in the post, or how the post came to the attention of the department, nor whether the department routinely monitored social media for criticism of its staff.

ZDNet has sought additional information from those involved.

It comes as the government is reportedly implementing new rules that encourage public servants to dob in colleagues posting political criticism of the government on social media, even those posting anonymously.

"If an employee becomes aware of another employee who is engaging in conduct that may breach this policy, there is an expectation that the employee will report the conduct to the department," the Daily Telegraph reported the policy as stating.

"This means that if you receive or become aware of a social media communication by another PM&C employee that is not consistent with this policy, you should advise that person accordingly and inform your supervisor."

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has been in the spotlight in Australia since the election of the government led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott implemented a military-style Operation Sovereign Borders in September last year, which is aimed at stopping asylum seekers from travelling by boat to Australia.

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