Provincial civil servants will no longer be able to post anonymously on their public service intranet's comments board - even though they expressly told the government they wanted to keep that option. In an email sent to bureaucrats on Wednesday and obtained by Public Eye, the government explained eliminating anonymous comments "should result in fewer negative comments," ensuring the forum is "a positive tool for sharing ideas, observations and constructive dialogue."
According to the email, the message board was also becoming "dominated" by a "small number of anonymous posters" - creating "the perception among readers of a vigorous debate, while in fact in many cases it is actually a discussion among a smallish group of individuals."
As a result, the government has eliminated that option - even though an April survey found only a "minority of respondents said names should be required" on the comment board.
Not that it really matters anyway. Because the government has always been able to check the identity of comment writers "whether you post anonymously or not, so we know who you are when you're making comments that might be deemed inappropriate."
Which kind of sounds like a threat, doesn't it? The following is a complete copy of the aforementioned email.
What's in a Name
Straight Talk on Life in the Public Service
We've made a change to the comments board that will likely be seen as a big change to many of the users of that forum: the option to post anonymously has been removed and you will now be required to post your name if you wish to post a comment. Instead of just flicking that switch and waiting for the comments - and complaints, no doubt - to flood in, we thought we'd explain why.
Let's acknowledge something to start. In April we posted a poll asking if employees who post comments should post their names, and a minority of respondents said names should be required. We have chosen to go ahead with this change anyway, but only after careful consideration about the implications.
There are three main reasons for this change:
1. Accountability: Requiring names to be posted upholds this corporate value. Regardless of whether you're a fan of this change, you can't argue with that.
2. Negativity: Eliminating the option for anonymity should result in fewer negative comments. We're all adults and professionals but, frankly, not everyone behaves that way when posting anonymous comments. There have been several observations lately about the negativity in comments, and we agree with those who feel it's all become too much.
We want this forum to be a positive tool for sharing ideas, observations and constructive dialogue. As noted in the guidelines, diversity of opinion is welcome. Hopefully that dialogue will happen in a more respectful manner if our names are attached to our comments.
3. Participation: We want to address the participation - or perceived participation - in the forum. Since November 2008, when we moved to a threaded format for comments, the monthly number of posts has increased more than tenfold. The number of employees posting has roughly tripled. If you do the math on that, you'll realize the majority of comments are coming from a smaller group of people than the average reader (who can't see IDIRs like we can) would realize.
The problem with the board being dominated by such a small number of anonymous posters is that it creates the perception among readers of a vigorous debate, while in fact in many cases it is actually a discussion among a smallish group of individuals.
And one more thing on the subject of our being able to see IDIRs... If you're worried about possible repercussions of being identified as a result of this change, we'd like to offer this friendly reminder that:
* In order to use the comment board you must be logged into the government network. Your IDIR information is connected to everything you do on the network, including commenting on @Work.
* When you post a comment, you'll notice your IDIR information is visible. We can already see your IDIR when you post whether you post anonymously or not, so we know who you are when you're making comments that might be deemed inappropriate.
The three reasons listed above are all things we hope to address by requiring the use of names but, aside from open, transparent and hopefully more positive discussions on the board, there are other benefits to this. As some have pointed out one of the advantages of this forum is that it provides a way to network with people from across the public service, so it will be nice to know who you're talking to.
So that's what we've done and why. As noted above, we've considered this carefully. We haven't made this decision in isolation either. Your comments back it up because, interestingly, while those who voted on the poll were in favour of anonymity (or at least of having a choice), many recent comments reinforce the reasons for requiring that names be used.
We encourage you to continue using this forum to share your opinions, ideas and observations about working in the BC Public Service. We look forward to continued dialogue... with your names attached.
(The Briefing Note is an editorial rant "” and sometimes a rave "” about life in the public service. Got an idea for a topic? Use our feedback loop.)
Published July 14, 2009