I was wondering when this would finally happen…
Facebook, perhaps the most popular social networking site in the world where one can build a network among friends, acquaintances and professionals is to no longer be used by Conservative ministerial exempt staff.
Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long. Facebook pages are like semi-private blogs that can include off-colour comments by colleagues, photos from last night’s bender and can even display deeply personal details such as one’s relationship status and sexual preference. Blogs understandably represented a communications challenge amongst a team that prides itself on tight messaging. Facebook not only represents this same challenge, but also has the potential for being a rich back-channel for opposition researchers, among others.
In fact, a reporter friend once remarked to me that Facebook was a ‘goldmine’ of information. With a few clicks, an industrious Globe and Mail scribe could find out that the press secretary to a Minister was at a Cinco de Mayo party this month, has interests that include “Ayn Rand, fast boats, ATVing and walks on the beach” and has a Guns ‘N Roses tattoo from earlier, less sophisticated
David Akin, another reporter who is actively involved in the Facebook community, earlier wrote about the social networking phenomenon and then unknowingly highlighted what is likely the reasoning behind this recent decision:
“One of the reasons I wanted to be Harper’s FF [Facebook friend] was so that I could see who Harper’s other FFs were. I’m a nosy parker by profession and it’s my job to find out what his supporters and colleagues in the Conservative party are thinking about. So here was a good chance to invite myself to a virtual party where most (I suspect) are people who either are or would like to be Harper’s real offline friend. Now, the flipside of this is that all of these people at this virtual party of Harper’s friends can also see that I, too, have listed myself as Harper’s “Friend”. So, here I am, a journalist who is paid to provide independent, non-aligned and occasionaly sceptical reports on the Prime Minister and yet, here I am, on a list of his “Friends”.”
The “friend” network of a Conservative ministerial exempt staffer may include Conservatives, high school friends, Liberals, PMO staff and Mark Holland (just for kicks — and to spy on him too to see if he is as ill-timed with the keyboard as he is with what he says in public — he is). And therein lies the biggest problem for a professional network that trades on gossip, leaks and juicy details: while you’re checking them out, you’re open to the same. “Bozo eruptions” are not limited to a backbench MP freelancing opinion about social issues to a small- town newspaper reporter; Facebook, in its ease of use, and its socially reciprocating nature, lowers the threshold of access to and ramps up the rapid dissemination of the information about anyone that is about to ruin their political career.
Of course, staff will be upset by the move as Facebook is easily one of the day’s best diversions as it brings procrastination, web surfing and socializing together in a truly amusing way. However, the decision is a wise one for a team that must deal in this political reality.
The Liberals, predictably, will not follow suit in order to contrast their “openness” and “transparency” to Canadians. In fact, Stephane Dion has been an active participant of the social networking site (“Hello Facebook”). The contrarian move, of course, will be to their folly for the reasons that I outline above. But now, it is the potentially embarrassing Liberal information that is now available while Conservative information has been removed.
It should also be noted that this ban is different from that brought down by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. This ban by the Conservatives only applies to ministerial exempt staff. Facebook will still be accessible on their computers, but they are advised not to participate. McGuinty effectively had the Facebook site made inaccessible from Queen’s Park computers for all staff, regardless of their political stripe (or lack thereof). The aim of McGuinty’s ban is to cut down on procrastination while the Conservative ban is to patch up leaks before they occur.