MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang officials must separate their personal opinions from their official statements in government especially when using social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter.
Web safety advocate and blogger Sonnie Santos issued this advice as Malacañang continues to finalize its social media policy in the aftermath of the social media gaffe of one of President Benigno Aquino's speechwriters.
In an interview, Santos said there is a fine line between the personal and official and many people do not know how to separate one from the other.
Santos said in the case of presidential speechwriter Carmen "Mai" Mislang, she forgot that she was no longer just a part of Aquino's staff but a Palace official representing the country as part of the Philippine delegation to Vietnam last month.
"The social media gaffe committed by Mai Mislang would not have caused a fuss if she was not part of the Philippine delegation to Vietnam and was not part of government. What that means is that -- as you grow up in leadership, your words carry different weight," he said.
Mislang came under fire after she complained in her Twitter account about the quality of wine served at the state banquet hosted by Vietnam President Nguyen Minh Triet in honor of Aquino. She also said there were no handsome men in Vietnam and complained that traffic in Hanoi is dangerous.
Mislang has apologized for her comments and has been reprimanded by her boss, Presidential Communications Group Secretary Ricky Carandang.
Crafting social media policy
Santos said that in crafting social media policies, government has to ask first if it plans to use social media tools and how it will use them.
"If yes, what are the guidelines? Who will maintain the official channels of communication? If there is a department who is in charge of social media, who will maintain the account? Also, which accounts should be maintained?" he asked.
If government doesn't plan to use social media, Santos said government should still craft a code of conduct for employees who plan to use social media for their own personal ends.
"For example, as a person in government, will what I say affect the image of the agency?" he said.
Santos said persons placed in charge of the official Twitter and Facebook accounts of government agencies should undergo training on the proper use of social media and how to protect one's privacy.
He also suggested a flowchart similar to the one used by the United States Airforce that indicate which comments should be answered and which ones should be ignored. "Not every comment should be dignified with a response," he said.
Santos praised the official Twitter account of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) as a good example of how a social media tool can be used to provide information and foster interaction with clients.
On the other hand, he gave a thumbs down to the Twitter site of weather bureau PAGASA since it only replicates what is already on their website.
One code of ethics for all
Santos said officials should also be consistent with existing government policies.
"Do not make a separate policy that is inconsistent with the original code of conduct set for employees. For example, there might be a policy about wasting company time. If you use Facebook at work all the time, this may be considered a breach of existing policy," he said.
He said that while the official communications group in charge of social media may have a different set of policies, the code of ethics should apply to all.
Leadership must set an example
Santos praised the Aquino administration for tapping the latest social media tools to reach out to the masses.
He said the official Twitter accounts of government agencies "should serve as a hotline to these offices when the usual channels do not work. Feedback must be encouraged."
"They have to make the pages interactive to bridge the gap between the officials and the stakeholders," he added.
He said President Benigno Aquino's answer to a Facebook critic that had posted a negative comment on his Facebook account was one way of touching base with his constituents.
Santos said Mislang's Twitter gaffe exposed her immaturity but also highlighted the disconnect between the personal and official use of social media.
"For example, with Ricky Carandang, when he transferred to government, he still had his Twitter followers with him. His blog also had a lot of followers. Who follows you? Where are you now? The more you go up in leadership, the more you will be unable to publish your personal thoughts and feelings in your blog," he said.
He added: "If Noynoy tweeted before that he was dating someone, not a whole lot of people will pay attention. But now that he is president, the minute he says something like that, it's news. Social media didn't change. His circumstances have changed. That is the cost of being a leader."
Santos said some of the criticisms leveled against Mislang were uncalled for, especially since some of her Twitter posts were done before she joined government. Unfortunately, he also noted that people "cannot separate what you are now with what you were before."
The web safety advocate said government officials can tweet but they must be very careful what they divulge. "What you say on social media now might be seen 10 years from now when you are already in a leadership position," he said.
He added: "Make your words sweet because one day you will eat them."