07 May 2020

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has found that it is widespread practice for ministers to use public resources in the generation of content for their personal pages in Facebook and other social media. The Commissioner has concluded that this is an abuse since the ministers in question are using public resources to raise their personal and political profiles.

The Commissioner has stated that content generated using public resources should be uploaded to official sites. After the content is published in this manner, ministers can then share it through their personal social media accounts. However, public resources should not be used to produce material that is uploaded directly to ministers’ social media accounts.

The Commissioner for Standards came to these conclusions after considering a complaint by Christian Peregin, chief executive officer of the website Lovin Malta, about the use of social media by ministers.

To investigate the complaint, the Commissioner took a sample of posts by five different ministers in their personal Facebook accounts. The Commissioner found that only one of these five examples represented good practice. The other four involved misuse of public resources.

The Commissioner’s report on this case includes guidelines on the use of social media that are intended to avoid misuse of public resources. In the report the Commissioner announces that these guidelines have already been discussed with the government, which has agreed that ministers should follow the guidelines.

The Commissioner says: “I consider this to constitute a highly positive development which suggests that the practices described by this case report will soon be a thing of the past. It is satisfying to note that, with the active cooperation of the government, the fundamental objective of my office, that is improving standards in public life, is being realised in connection with the matters addressed by this report.”

The Commissioner has therefore closed the case, but he has stated that he will bear the guidelines in mind in any future cases involving the use of personal social media accounts. The Commissioner’s report is available from here.

This is the second case decided by the Standards Commissioner that involves social media. The first case concerned Minister Konrad Mizzi and was decided in December 2019. In that case the Commissioner concluded that ministers should not use public resources to maintain their personal Facebook pages or produce content for those pages, even if such content was related to their official duties. A clear distinction should be maintained between a minister’s personal channels of communication and the official channels of ministries or departments of government, and only the latter should be maintained using public resources.