Dear Human(s),

Open letter to PM&C

The Australian Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet put out a horrible social media policy restricting what its employees could say. It’s so restrictive and open to nefarious interpretation, that I though that posting the policy via social media would actually violate itself. That’s the gist of this pedantic but hopefully absurd letter I’ve sent them below. I’ll upload their response when I get it.

ATTN: HR Help at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet

Dear human(s),

I managed to read your new social media policy on the Canberra Times website [1]. I have to admit I’m not an expert in social media[2] or an expert on APS regulations and bureaucratic arcana[3] but I happen to know just a little bit about self-reference. So I’d like to point out a strange loop[4] that I’ve found in your policy. In the section outlining responsibilities of employees (when using social media in an unofficial capacity) it says:

When using social media, an employee must not: […] 4. post derogatory comments, obscene material, or personal attacks that may call into question the integrity and good reputation of PM&C or the APS

Unfortunately, because the policy itself has obviously called into question the integrity and reputation of the PM&C and the APS, posting it via social media violates its own conditions. Because several employees of the PM&C have posted the policy on Twitter, even without editorial comments, they are still in breach of the policy, so consider this, me dobbing them in. I won’t bother pointing them out, I’m sure you can find them by searching social media — if nothing else, the policy demonstrated that its authors are very experienced in and knowledgeable of social media.

To avoid problems like this in the future you will need to be careful to write policies which cannot refer to themselves. This will be hard because any time you wish to write an odious policy restricting the standard freedoms of employees, you will need to make sure that employees cannot do anything regarding the policy that instantiates this selfsame odiousness. It’s weird, I know, but just so I’m sure you’re on to this, can you or someone in the Department please answer these questions for me:

  1. What will be done about the employees who have obviously compromised the integrity and reputation of PM&C by posting this transparently awful policy?

  2. Was anyone involved with the writing of the policy aware that posting it would violate its own stipulations?

  3. Now that it’s out, will anything be done to restore the allegedly former good reputation of the department?

Any actual response to these questions would be great. And if the person responding is just some poor grad who has to answer letters from weird old people who probably use words like “notwithstanding” or “inappropriate”, then whatever, I don’t want to cause more work for you. Maybe just pass it on to a supervisor, that would be cool, or tell some people about how terrible this policy is (but not via social media, obviously).

Sincerely,

Jamie Freestone

P.S. Please note that I will obviously be publishing a copy of this letter to social media, just to close my own strange loop of self-reference and to expose as best I can the absurdity of the whole thing.

[1] http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/public-service/social-media-policy-of-the-department-of-the-prime-minister-and-cabinet-20140408-36ake.html

[2] Cf. the meagre amount of followers I have on Twitter @JamieFreestone.

[3] I’ve never had any kind of job with a government department so you can imagine how little I know.

[4] Basically a self-referential or recursive loop. See the work in self-reference, computer science, logic and physics of Douglas Hofstadter.