Life leak – its a nasty business

I have always been rather careful about letting different parts of my life interact with other parts. My parents had limited contact with my friends, I still keep two mobile numbers (work/personal in case you wonder), I fret about how to categorise people on instant messenger and I never email friends from my work email address except in dire circumstances. To start with I am not sure why I was so structured about this but as time goes on I am increasingly relieved that I set things up like this as it means I have some choices when it comes to how I present myself online. With email addresses being the usual unique identifier that sends social networking and other apps rifling through your PC I find it really useful to choose consciously which address to use. So – I use my work email for my Facebook account – something that I consider to be a necessary evil as I am researching this stuff -and I keep it quarantined from my personal email. This should be enough to stop regrettable life leak and avoid friends and colleagues colliding but unfortunately this discipline is increasingly difficult to maintain as there is something rather brutal in rejecting someone’s ‘friend‘ request in Facebook land just because they don’t meet your zoning criteria and I now find the odd friend (or relative – they are even harder to ignore) on my Facebook page.

As I talk to people in Councils about social networking one of the first things I suggest is that they actually look for the people who are already doing it – after all officers are citizens as well and they should be your best advocate in the community. And this is not just good advice for Council’s – recent Useit research says the same thing for the commercial sector. 

But this suggestion throws the life leak problem into sharp relief and though I think it is very dangerous ground if people’s jobs are dictating what they can and can’t say in the personal life I think it becomes increasingly important that both sides of the equation – citizen/officer and council – are able to agree on some kind of social networking contract which will ensure that officers have enough latitude to be able to act as citizens on the wider social web but also understand what is appropriate from the Councils’ point of view. Now, in return for this the Council should get a huge increase in the number of people who are putting their message out on the social web but there are of course risks which I wasn’t going to elucidate here as you can probably list them yourself.

What I want to highlight is the fact that part of this social networking contract may have to be focused on talking about digital identity and talking people through the thought process of why you might want to keep a personal email address and what it means it talk about your council job on your Facebook page that uses your personal email as distinct from a work one. The best one of these I have seen so far is Carl’s draft from Devon CC but I still think this needs to go further.

Do you think I am worrying too much?

I think its essential that we release the huge potential around the use of social networks and freeing up officers to take a more direct role in their community conversations where they are also citizens is one way to do this. In fact – in the future – not doing this could be a limitation of their democratic rights. But if we don’t also support a more sophisticated view of digital identity this could get very messy indeed. If one of the necessary tasks of building a social web strategy is in bringing together a single relationship with the citizen in the same way as services have been focused around a single customer relationship then we need to think carefully if we want to make it possible, and perhaps desirable, for us to accommodate multiple identities within the system. It could be perfectly reasonable for a client of social services not to want to use the same identity for their citizen activities and the same could be true for officers / citizens.

I am not sure what the answer is here – and I think the technology is still evolving – but I do think the questions of identity and the associated life leak needs to be part of the debate around social web for Local Government.

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