Philippines government officials return to social media as guidelines are issued
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Philippines government officials return to social media as guidelines are issued

There is big news from the Philippines as the government has given its employees the all clear to resume social media activity following a temporary suspension after a scandal involving tweets from President Aquino’s speech writer emerged in late October.

Mai Mislang, the speech writer, was on an official visit to Vietnam with the Aquino administration when she let fly with a number of disparaging tweets about the host of a party she was at and Vietnamese men. The comments, sent to personal friends, were quickly picked up by Filipino journalists on Twitter – Mislang had used Twitter for media interviews in the past – and upon confrontation her account was deleted and, despite pressure, she remained in her job.

[For a more detailed overview of the scandal, fellow AC blogger James Cordova has a number of excellent articles here, here, here and here].

An Inquirer quotes Ricky Caradang, who leads Aquino’s communications team, on the new focus on social media:

 

Carandang said Thursday that his staff had resumed posting tweets on the microblogging site as well as on Facebook after the government imposed strict guidelines on all government officials doing so.

As we have said before you are no longer a private person. So when you tweet or write on Facebook you have to assume that public (is) thinking that you are unofficially representing government,” Carandang told reporters.

Your statements or actions must correspond to that thinking.”

As one would expect Carandang’s comments are fairly obvious and should really be self-evident for anyone whether they work for the Aquino government, a large company or anywhere else. The issue of responsible use of social media is nothing new which makes it all the more surprising that Mislang made her comments in the first instance, particularly when she had used the medium for professional use in the past and failed to consider that her comments would be read by a larger audience than simply her friends.

The whole sorry Mislang affair was very embarrassing (and potentially damaging) for an administration which prides itself on its use of social media, as I wrote before, Twitter and Facebook where major strategic communication channels for the President during his successful campaign.

For me, as an outsider looking in, the real damage from the events came not from Mislang’s tweets themselves (unprofessional though they were) but from the uncertain reaction and the way the government handled the uproar. For example, her offending Twitter account was deleted (trying to hide the evidence is a big no in social media communication terms) while her apology came through Carandang, and even then it was not a straight up sorry…coming clean and acknowledging the mistake could have lessened the damage.

Starting now, however, there will be no excuse for future social media mess-ups, although you can bet that the reaction generated by Mislang’s ill-judged tweets would serve as a strong enough deterrent on its own to make government officials think twice when using social media. Fortunately for Mislang she lives to fight another day in her position when many in other jobs, companies and industries have been forced out of their jobs for not dissimilar actions.