03 Dec 2019
Facebook login screen on a smartphone

Dr George Hyzler, Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, has concluded that the use of public resources to maintain a minister’s personal Facebook page or to produce material for that page represents an abuse. This applies equally to the use of public funds for such purposes and to the assignment of such work to government employees.

The Commissioner for Standards came to this conclusion after considering a complaint by Dr Karol Aquilina MP against Dr Konrad Mizzi MP, who was Minister for Tourism when the complaint was made. The complaint concerned partisan political content in a Facebook page which appeared to be an official page administered by the Ministry for Tourism.

The Commissioner found that the page in question was not an official page but the personal page of Minister Mizzi, notwithstanding that it included the statement “This page is maintained by the Ministry for Tourism”, and notwithstanding that Minister Mizzi himself mistakenly described it as an official page in a reply to a parliamentary question. This mistake demonstrated an inability to maintain a distinction between the Minister’s public role and his private role as a politician.

Given that the page was the Minister’s personal page, he had every right to post partisan political content in it. However, it was also the practice for ministry employees to make posts to the page relating to the Minister’s official duties. This was to the Minister’s personal benefit since such posts were in effect being used to boost his political profile.

The Commissioner therefore concluded that ministers should not use public resources to maintain their personal Facebook pages or produce content for those pages, even if such content is 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.

The Commission therefore upheld the complaint, but he recommended no further action given that Minister Mizzi resigned, for unrelated reasons, on 26 November 2019.

The Commissioner also stated that he is preparing another report which will consider wider issues and set out principles to be followed in the use of social media by ministers and parliamentary secretaries.

The Commissioner’s report on this case is available from here.