Twitter and Facebook guidelines: Tweet in both official languages, report tells N.B. civil servantsSource: National Post
Postmedia News Oct 21, 2011 – 8:47 AM ET | Last Updated: Oct 21, 2011 10:47 AM ET
By Shawn Berry
FREDERICTON — New Brunswick’s official languages commissioner says the provincial government needs to establish clear guidelines to help civil servants and even members of legislature figure out when bilingual messages are warranted on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
In an annual report released Thursday, Michel Carrier says he has recommended to Premier David Alward that public agencies be given direction on their requirements under the Official Languages Act when using social media.
The act requires government to offer services in both English and French, but it was drafted in 2002, before the age of social media sites.
Still, Mr. Carrier says the requirement for government departments and employees to issue advisories in both official languages is clear.
“Whatever you communicate as a representative of the government must be done in both official languages if you’re going to distribute it to the general public and in equal quality.”
The same is true for government ministers, he said.
But Mr. Carrier said there’s still a considerable grey area that needs to be mapped out.
He says there’s a fine line for members of legislature to walk, noting that at times their online messages could be construed as government announcements.
“There are two aspects to communications: When you’re replying to someone, you reply in the language of their choice. When you’re communicating on behalf of the government, you have to do it in both official languages,” Mr. Carrier said.
“For blogs and Twitter accounts, the same policy applies,” he said.
Mr. Carrier said his office received a handful of requests for information on how to use social media properly under the act.
The requests included questions about the proper use of personal Twitter accounts by government employees, the use of bilingual public forums and unilingual forums and the use of third parties in the management or moderation of government public forums.
“If you write to your MLA in English, he or she replies to you in English. You choose the language.”
But he said the law doesn’t necessarily apply to everything a legislature member may write.
“It doesn’t mean everything they write on Twitter has to be bilingual. But if you’re making a general announcement that there’s going to be a flood all along the St. John River, you need to do it in both languages and tell everyone.”
Mr. Carrier noted that Premier Alward has two official Twitter accounts — one English, one French.
Mr. Carrier’s comments left at least one member of the legislature who makes a habit of using social media wondering where things stand.
Jack Carr said he plans to touch base with the commissioner to find out more about the matter but has no plans to stop using social media.
“I’m very active in social media to reach my constituents. That’s my role as an MLA, to reach out to constituents.”
Mr. Carr, who noted that the fastest growing population segment in his riding is francophone, said he is working to improve his command of the French language.
“I am anglophone, I am not bilingual, I am striving. . . . I’m continuously trying to reach out, trying to include members of the francophone community.”
Mr. Carrier is also welcoming the province’s move to reopen the debate on early French immersion.
“I like it. I think that it’s a positive step,” Mr. Carrier said Thursday as he released his report for 2010-2011.
The province has announced that it has established a panel to review the French immersion policy. In 2008, the Liberal government caused a furor when it sought to eliminate French immersion starting in Grade 1. A compromise saw the program start in Grade 3.
Mr. Carrier noted that at the time, his office said the immersion program didn’t need to be changed.
He said he continues to maintain that there needs to be more access outside the classroom.
“My experience in exchanging with immersion students is that they are very well trained, however, they don’t always have the opportunity to continue using it.”
The commissioner’s office received 200 complaints last year. Of the 133 complaints ruled to be founded, 23 of the complaints were withdrawn.
The report comes as a legislative committee prepares to review the province’s official languages legislation before year’s end. The commissioner has made 13 recommendations for improving the act.