We now have all core staff of Involve on Twitter. This raises challenging questions for us about whether they are doing it as employees or as private citizens. How do individuals and organisations negotiate the increasing blurring between personal and professional identity? Surely there must be a better way than yet another policy for staff to follow?
One of the exciting things about working here is that all of my colleagues are as passionate as I am about finding new ways to engage citizens in the things that matter to them. So we mainly tweet about issues relevant to Involve.
However, all Involve staff are engaged in a range of other issues that they care deeply about. They tweet about these things too because they are interested in learning more and engaging in conversations to try to understand the world better.
Twitter is the place where the professional and personal lives of all staff have suddenly become very blurred and it’s causing us some angst.
I trust my colleagues enough to be confident that they wouldn’t run into the sorts of problems that others using Twitter have run into (see here and here). However, I’m increasingly less confident that our anything goes social media policy (i.e. no social media policy) is the kindness to my colleagues that I thought it was.
Involve is a special sort of organisation. It walks a fine line between all sorts of political issues. While we are passionate advocates for more and better public engagement in many political decisions, we are deliberately agnostic on the issues themselves. Not only is Involve not Party Political, it is not Political at all. This has to be the case if we are to create the space where individuals, organisations and stakeholders who may hold radically opposing viewpoints can come together to build alternative visions for the way forward. (I’m aware that this is only one purpose for public engagement, and it isn’t even the only thing that Involve does it for, but for the narrow purposes of this post it is the most important).
What makes the twitter feeds of Involve staff interesting (I hope) is that we are clearly individuals trying to make sense of a complex world; individuals who even occasionally disagree with one another. However, as we generate a set of twitter feeds that demonstrate that we are engaged with the outside world, do we risk compromising the ability of the organisation to create safe spaces where opposing views can explore their differences?
I want to find a way to protect staff from inadvertently affecting Involve’s reputation while giving them the freedom to be themselves. The obvious solution is to write a policy that dictates what staff can and cannot say on social media platforms like Twitter. As a solution this has its merits, but we are all concerned that it will impose Involve’s needs on the personal parts of our lives. Will that mean that we can no longer protest, take a public stance about an issue that affects us personally, or an issue that we care deeply about?
As we discussed the issue, I began to reflect that social media is changing the world far faster than I had understood; the very power of social media to give our opinions a platform also constrains us. With the power of social media comes a level of responsibility that we, who are used to viewing ourselves as private citizens, are only just beginning to understand. We are increasingly public citizens with all the implications that this entails.
There are a number of helpful posts and conversations going on about this issue. However, none of these quite answer the set of questions social media raises for Involve. I’d be really interested to find out what others think about how I support my colleagues to navigate their new found powers and responsibilities. A social media policy is the only tool I feel I have in the box, and yet instinctively it feels like the wrong tool.