Government tweets sanitized

Pity the poor government tweet, nearly strangled in its cradle before limping into the Twitterverse.

OTTAWA — Pity the poor government tweet, nearly strangled in its cradle before limping into the Twitterverse.

Newly disclosed documents from Industry Canada show how teams of bureaucrats often work for weeks to sanitize each lowly tweet, in a medium that’s supposed to thrive on spontaneity and informality.

Most 140-character tweets issued by the department are planned weeks in advance; edited by dozens of public servants; reviewed and revised by the minister’s staff; and sanitized through a 12-step protocol, the documents indicate.

Insiders and experts say the result is about as far from the spirit of Twitter as you can get — and from a department that’s supposed to be on the leading edge of new communications technologies.

The documents, obtained through the Access to Information Act, show such a high level of control that arrangements are made days in advance to have other government agencies re-tweet forthcoming Industry Canada tweets, because re-tweets are considered a key measure of success.

In turn, Industry Canada agrees to do the same for tweets from the Business Development Bank of Canada and others.

Formal policy for the department was set into a protocol last October, with a 12-step process that requires numerous approvals for each tweet from Industry Minister James Moore’s office or from the office of Greg Rickford, the junior minister.

Public servants vet draft tweets for hashtags, syntax, policy compliance, retweeting, French translation and other factors. Policy generally precludes tweeting on weekends, and the minister’s personal Twitter handle must be kept out of departmental tweets, though his name and title are often included.

The resulting tweets read like stiff public service announcements, such as this October example: “Browse the Mobile Protection Toolbox to learn facts & find tips to protect yourself. GetCyberSafe,” with a link to the department’s website.

Sometimes the well runs dry, and bureaucrats borrow tweets from other departments.

“We are short tweets for the next two weeks and I really don’t see a harm in tweeting the attached as it’s info that is found on the IC (Industry Canada) site,” says a Sept. 27 email, asking permission to recycle a Public Safety tweet.

Other times, Moore’s own office runs out of ideas and asks for help.

“We’re in need of content for next week,” Moore’s assistant wrote to bureaucrats Oct. 1. “Any chance you could provide us with a couple of tweets for the MINO (minister’s office) to consider?”