Commentary: Politics on social media
After receiving various comments on Casey’s scenario, we noticed that Defence Team members are sometimes uncertain about regulations regarding social media. Social media platforms allow information to spread quickly and their use requires caution.
Many readers noticed that the nature of Casey’s comments was political. However, some readers suggested that the comments came from a private profile, which in theory should not pose any problem. CANFORGEN 016/18* states that “social networks and the comment sections of web sites are public in nature”. As much as Casey’s profile is listed as “private”, it is public and social in nature – especially when there is any DND/CAF information in the profile linked, including a picture in uniform. This information could be shared by others, for example by a screenshot of the post or comment.
The definition of “political activity” and “political advertising” for DND/CAF includes “to encourage some action in support of, the maintenance or change of a policy that is the responsibility of government at the federal, provincial or municipal level”. In this scenario, the political involvement takes place through Casey’s social media account, and it even displays her in a CAF uniform. Casey writes “why we need to vote for a candidate who supports a carbon tax”; this is a phrase of encouragement to vote in favor of a policy or candidate.
This also applies to civilian employees, as political advertising or support can be instantaneously carried out through social media without a second thought. Defence Team members should always be mindful of the rules, their rationale, and the personal responsibility involved when contemplating to publish, like or comment on something online. When it comes to sensitive subjects such as politics, CANFORGEN 135/15* states that “before publicly issuing a personal opinion on political matters, DND employees and CAF members should weigh their position, rank, appointment or notoriety in the community. Even when one does not identify oneself as a DND employee or CAF member, the local notoriety of the person could render a clear and direct link impossible to avoid. In such cases, it is preferable not to issue any personal opinion on political matters”.
In this scenario, Casey intends to express support for a candidate or a policy. Therefore, it falls under the broader definition of political activity. We have no information to assume she already has prominence in the community, but she has a picture in uniform on her social media profile.
It may be an even more difficult ethical judgment if comments of sensitive nature, not necessarily political, are posted. In such cases, the regulations would be less clear. Users must be cautious about these means of communication, and understand that improper use could implicate their professional identity.
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