In a post last from last fall, I wondered what we should be doing right now rather than reading this blog, or for that matter any other blog, board or forum. That was a question I asked myself then and I still ask myself now. My personal focus is on where blogging & commenting fit in my list of priorities and responsibilities. Is this the best use of my time? Am I honoring God? Am I serving my family? Tough questions.
But today this post is more about legality and ethics. If you are in the blogoshere committing hard crimes such as scams, identity theft or plain old theft then it’s clear you need an appointment at the ol’ courthouse. But what of softer crimes or unethical behavior such as harassment, threats, or for you public officials, violating public trust?
There are workplace rules which usually govern an employee’s personal use of computers, but as a public employee, even if you are allowed personal use time, should there be boundaries on what is legal and ethical? For instance, is it okay for an on duty paid firefighter to go online and view porn? How about engaging in firefighter forums? How about political forums? Where is the legal, ethical, public trust line? What about anonymity?
Cyber detectives use anonymity as a way of going undercover to catch criminals. Is it okay for an elected official to participate anonymously online while they are at home? At the office? Do constituents have a right to know what unpaid elected officials are saying while online?
What about paid officials while they are at work on the taxpayer payroll? Do taxpayers have a right to know what paid public officials are saying while online? We are fast approaching an election, should paid public officials be online promoting their candidate or criticizing another’s? If we elect a person to a non-partisan office, should we care if they are anonymously online tearing down one party or another?
As some of these questions were plug pulled fully loaded questions and I scheduled this post to go up smack in the middle of a normal work day, some elected officials and/or employees should be squirming in their seats right now. Look around your office, who looks uncomfortable?
Well that’s about 20 questions, which should be more than enough for any one post, but there are a few more. Through email addresses and registration, bloggers, journalists, and moderators are often privy to details of an anonymous commenters true identity. What responsibility to readership and the public do they have to report the anonymous actions of public officials? Should they report on ethics issues? Should they report on illegal activities? Are they complicit by not reporting or at least investigating public officials, who behind the secrecy of an online identity, are actually breaking public trust and/or laws?
My personal opinion is that any elected official should identify themselves as such when commenting on issues involved in their areas of responsibility and any paid official absolutely must identify themselves in those cases. Additionally, any on duty paid official or government employee must identify themselves in all cases. I applaud those few elected officials who are already doing this and wonder why others are not doing the same.