The government on Thursday issued guidelines for its departments using social media networks asking them not to post confidential information and “unverified” facts.

With 40 million Facebook and 16 million twitter users in India, social media have emerged as a powerful platform for forming an opinion as well as generating mass support, the Information Technology Ministry said in its 38-page guidelines issued on Thursday.

“Great care must be taken to avoid propagation of unverified facts and frivolous misleading rumours,” it said.

It asked persons handling social media for all government agencies including public sector undertakings not to “comment and respond unless authorised to do so especially in the matters that are sub judice, draft legislations or relating to other individuals”.

Asking social media handlers to be polite, discrete and respectful, the guidelines said personal comments for or against any individuals or agencies should not be made and professional discussions should not be politicised.

“Not all posts/comments need to be responded to immediately and individually. Also, wherever a response is required all posts should be kept short and to the point,” it said adding infringement of IPR and copyrights of others should be avoided.

The guidelines said while employees were free to post response in their personal capacity, “it is mandatory that while they are doing so, they must clearly identify themselves, confidential information must not be divulged and should not be seen to represent ‘official view’ unless authorised to do so”.

The guidelines stated that social media can only be used by the government to communicate existing government information and propagate official policy to the public.

Social media, it said, should only be one of the components of the overall citizen engagement strategy and government departments must desist from using only social media to communicate with their stakeholders.

“Initially, the departments may just aim to post information regularly. For example, if it is a Facebook page, posting may be done at least a couple of times a week and on Twitter slightly more frequently,” it said.

The government’s communication to citizens via social media should follow the same data retention policy as its communication through other electronic and non-electronic channels.

“When any information is shared or guidance given online, it is necessary to ensure that all relevant records are captured, trail is generated and records are managed appropriately,” the guidelines stated.

The government said the guidelines have been formulated with a view to help Ministries, departments and agencies to make use of social media platforms to engage more meaningfully with their various stakeholders.

World over, various government agencies use various social media platforms to interact with their stakeholders. In the U.S., the White House has a Facebook page and a Twitter profile.

Even the U.S. Army has a Facebook page and a social network website called GovLoop.com was created within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to share experiences and best practices.

In India, the Prime Minister’s Office this January launched social media initiatives and currently uses Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The Ministry of External Affairs is also present on Twitter.

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