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Could Public Servants Be Fired For Using The Wrong Emoji On Social Media?

Grateful reacts only?

07/08/2017 5:27 PM AEST | Updated 07/08/2017 5:37 PM AEST

Can you get fired from your job for posting the wrong emoji on Facebook? If you work for the government, the answer is "maybe", according to guidelines around social media use for public service employees.

The Australian newspaper reported on Monday on the federal government's 'making public comment on social media' policy, claiming that employees could face disciplinary action for sharing anti-government posts online, or even for just liking or commenting on those posts, or for allowing negative comments from others to stay on their profile page.

"Even if a public servant shares a post they do not agree with, and puts an angry face emoji with the post, the employee could still be in breach if their opposition to the post is not made sufficiently clear," The Australian reported.

"What you say in your own time on social media can affect that confidence and the reputation of your agency and of the APS," the policy reads.

"If you 'like' something on a social media platform, it will generally be taken to be an endorsement of that material as though you'd created that material yourself. 'Sharing' a post has much the same effect.

"However, if you're sharing something because you disagree with it and want to draw it someone else's attention, make sure that you make that clear at the time in a way that doesn't breach the Code itself. It may not be enough to select the 'angry face' icon, especially if you're one of thousands that have done so."

However, the article was partly shot down by the Australian Public Service Commission. In a statement, APSC commissioner John Lloyd said The Australian story "misrepresents the status of the revised social media guidance", claiming the policy aimed to simply "amplify existing guidance" and "is not more restrictive than previous guidance".

"The use of social media by employees requires discretion and judgement. For this reason it is important that all employers, including those in the APS, ensure their employees clearly understand the expectations of their behaviour when they use social media," Lloyd said.

"The APSC consulted extensively with APS agencies and employees in late 2016. This consultation indicated that the policy settings did not need to change, but that current obligations were not well understood by employees."

"[The policy] clarifies the parameters around what public servants can and cannot say, and should give greater confidence to APS employees when they are participating online activity."

Despite the APSC's response, the initial story kickstarted a tide of debate about whether public servants should be blocked from criticising the government, and jokes about just whether inadvertently picking the wrong emoji could get you the sack. The policy states "it may not be enough to select the 'angry face' icon", so what is an APS employee to do?

It is unclear which, if any, of the 30 hand signal emojis will be permitted as comment on government policy.

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