How many government employees does it take to compose a message with no more than 140 characters, or about 20 words? Well, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press, the tweets in Industry Canada are the work of dozens of bureaucrats following a 12-step protocol that can involve days or even weeks of planning, writing, rewriting, editing and political oversight before a single message hits the twitterverse.
The finished product is often an inane public service announcement.
The documents outlining the process were for Industry Canada, but a spokesman said the department was merely following “the Treasury Board standard on social-media account management.”
The policy would be laughable if it wasn’t for the fact taxpayers are on the hook for the army of ciphers who toil in basement offices, churning out useless information for the masses. It’s the kind of activity commonly seen in totalitarian regimes, where even simple tasks evolve into complex machines.
It also explains the proliferation of so-called communicators in the federal government, which employed nearly 4,000 communications staff in the 2011-12 fiscal year, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office. That’s an increase of 15 per cent since the Conservatives came to power in 2006.
Social media can play a useful role in government. The problem with the Treasury Board’s model, however, is it fails to separate the political from the bureaucratic.
Civil servants should have the power to distribute information without waiting for their political overseers to massage the message.
Obviously there is some overlap in functions, but the federal process has defeated the very virtue of social media, which is immediacy.
» This editorial recently ran in the Winnipeg Free Press.