Politicians reminded of rules for social networking sites

By Wu Shih-tsung, Yang Chiu-ying and Kuo Fang-chi  /  Staff Reporters

Sat, Dec 18, 2010 - Page 3

In view of the growing popularity of social networks and with many politicians and elected officials opening accounts on such sites, the Ministry of Civil Service said that officials should keep in mind that they cannot promote any political party and that they are only allowed to use public resources for official business.

Presidential Office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) earlier this week said President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would soon set up a Facebook page to interact with netizens. Other elected officials such as Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) and Chiayi County Commissioner Chang Hwa-kuan (張花冠) have Facebook pages.

This has raised concern over whether elected officials follow instructions issued by the Ministry of Civil Service.

According to the ministry, elected officials can use Facebook, Plurk and other such sites to promote knowledge about public policy and to communicate with users.

However, citing the Civil Service Administrative Neutrality Act (公務人員行政中立法), the ministry said officials need to be mindful that it is inappropriate for civil servants to use Facebook, Plurk and similar sites at work, or on government computers and engage in activities that are unrelated to their work.

They are also not allowed to use the power of their position or opportunities or methods provided through their position to request that other people join social networking site or the pages of other candidates, the ministry said.

The Chiayi County Government says someone is dedicated to handling Chang’s Facebook page, adding that the page is focused on disseminating county policy and gaining an understanding of public opinion and that it avoids issues to do with party politics.

Chang said her Facebook page is used to share the creation of county policy with the public and that rightly used, such sites are a useful channel for spreading information.

Using the disaster brought by Typhoon Morakot in early August last year as an example, Chang said many people used Facebook to bring people together to assist the relief effort in Chiayi County.

During campaigning for the recent special municipality elections in Greater Kaohsiung, young campaign workers for Chen Chu helped her set up a fan page on Facebook.

Tseng Wen-sheng (曾文生), director of Chen’s office, stressed that Chen herself never uploaded photographs or issued status updates, adding that Chen has said in public that she does not manage her Facebook page.

Minister of Civil Service Chang Che-chen (張哲琛) said government heads can use the Internet to get closer to the general public, but they should be careful and keep in mind the restrictions in the Civil Service Administrative Neutrality Act regarding the behavior of civil servants.

Chang said that although the act does not specifically mention elected government leaders, it does apply to all civil servants, which “of course includes elected government leaders.”

The law stipulates that public resources may not be used for non-official purposes, she added.