Prime Ministerial communications via social media

Anonymouse- made this Freedom of Information request to Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

The request was refused by Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

From: Anonymouse-

Delivered

Dear Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet,

I request information under the Freedom of Information Act pertaining to the PM&C's internal social media guidelines, policies, procedures and training manuals.

Specifically I seek any information regarding the PM&C's handling procedures, policies and guidelines of communications via the Twitter channel, @TonyAbbottMHR, the Tony Abbott Facebook page, facebook.com/TonyAbbottMP , and commenting on online platforms such as Reddit.com and news sites which provide commenting functions.

Of particular interest includes:

1. Which staff members are responsible for producing, implementing, and overseeing these procedures, policies and guidelines.
2. Which staff members have access to post communications via these channels
2.a. How frequently posts to these channels are made by members of staff other than Prime Minister Abbott
2.b. Under what circumstances are the posting of communications to these channels delegated to staff members rather than being posted by Prime Minister Abbott himself
3. What goals and/or targets have been set to increase the number of followers/fans reached via these channels
3.a. Details regarding methods for reaching these goals/targets
3.b. Details of any campaigns in which third parties have received payment with the objective of assisting in reaching these targets/goals
4. Any words or terms which are internally prohibited from use on these channels
5. Any topics or issues which are internally prohibited from being discussed and or replied to via these channels

Yours faithfully,

Anonymouse-

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From: FOI
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

I've made some edits in hard copy, on your chair.

Brendan MacDowell | Senior Adviser
Access and Administrative Review | Legal Policy Branch
Government Division | Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
p. 02 6271 5702

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From: FOI
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Dear Anonymouse

Thank you for your request dated 3 May 2014 to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in which you requested the following:

'I request information under the Freedom of Information Act pertaining to the PM&C's internal social media guidelines, policies, procedures and training manuals.

Specifically I seek any information regarding the PM&C's handling procedures, policies and guidelines of communications via the Twitter channel, @TonyAbbottMHR, the Tony Abbott Facebook page, facebook.com/TonyAbbottMP , and commenting on online platforms such as Reddit.com and news sites which provide commenting functions.

Of particular interest includes:

1. Which staff members are responsible for producing, implementing, and overseeing these procedures, policies and guidelines.
2. Which staff members have access to post communications via these channels 2.a. How frequently posts to these channels are made by members of staff other than Prime Minister Abbott 2.b. Under what circumstances are the posting of communications to these channels delegated to staff members rather than being posted by Prime Minister Abbott himself 3. What goals and/or targets have been set to increase the number of followers/fans reached via these channels 3.a. Details regarding methods for reaching these goals/targets 3.b. Details of any campaigns in which third parties have received payment with the objective of assisting in reaching these targets/goals 4. Any words or terms which are internally prohibited from use on these channels 5. Any topics or issues which are internally prohibited from being discussed and or replied to via these channels.'

The Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act) makes it clear in section 15 that a request, in order to be valid, must be a request for documents, rather than a request for information. As your request is for information it is not a valid request under the FOI Act and cannot be processed in its current form.

If you would like to resubmit your request please consider which documents you are after. Please bear in mind that all requests must be of a manageable size for an agency to be able to process. If a request is too large, an agency may refuse to process it based on it being a substantial and unreasonable diversion of its resources (s24AA). In the case of a Minister the matter may be refused if it would unreasonably interfere with the performance of the Minister’s functions.

Yours sincerely

FOI Officer
PM & C

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Locutus Sum left an annotation ()

I believe that this is an exceptionally poor response from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. It gives the impression, whether or not it is true, that the person who wrote the response did not understand well the Act. The reasoning that holds up the sentence that says, "The Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act) makes it clear in section 15 that a request, in order to be valid, must be a request for documents, rather than a request for information", is exceptionally poor. The letter then get worse, in the sense of the technical understanding that is shown.

First, the word document is very broadly defined. It means anything that it means in its ordinary meaning, but it includes things that a person maybe does not normally understand to be documents. By these words, I mean that "document" means its ordinary meaning, plus what the Acts Interpretation Acts says that "document" means, plus anything more that the FOI Act says that "document means". In the section 2B of the Acts Interpretation Act (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/c... a person can read that: ' "document" means any record of information, and includes: (a) anything on which there is writing; and (b) anything on which there are marks, figures, symbols or perforations having a meaning for persons qualified to interpret them; and (c) anything from which sounds, images or writings can be reproduced with or without the aid of anything else; and (d) a map, plan, drawing or photograph.' Next, a look at section 4 (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/c... of the Freedom of Information Act will show that it repeats some of the extras from the Acts Interpretation Act, but then adds more. It says, '"document" includes: (a) any of, or any part of any of, the following things:(i) any paper or other material on which there is writing; (ii) a map, plan, drawing or photograph; (iii) any paper or other material on which there are marks, figures, symbols or perforations having a meaning for persons qualified to interpret them; (iv) any article or material from which sounds, images or writings are capable of being reproduced with or without the aid of any other article or device; (v) any article on which information has been stored or recorded, either mechanically or electronically; (vi) any other record of information; or (b) any copy, reproduction or duplicate of such a thing; or (c) any part of such a copy, reproduction or duplicate.' Unfortunately I cannot put a got format to the words but a person can see that the definition is very wide and is "a record of information". So how can the officer say that the Act does not cover requests for information? I say more for this question a bit later.

Second, the officer makes an implication that it is the responsibility of an applicant to use the actual word "document" and not information. This is absolutely not true. Section 15 does not say anything about the words that an applicant must use. The burden that the applicant must carry is stated in section 15(2) and it is to make the request in a way that a person can understand and find what is wanted. For example, a person can read in section 15(2)(b) that a request for access must "provide such information concerning the document as is reasonably necessary to enable a responsible officer of the agency, or the Minister, to identify it". Of course, because document also means "a record of information", a person can read the section 15(2)(b) to say that a request for access must "provide such information concerning the [record of information] as is reasonably necessary to enable a responsible officer of the agency, or the Minister, to identify it".

When the Act is understood correctly, there is a large part of this request which is almost certainly valid as a request under the Act. But there is more. There is a burden on the officer. If the officer believed that the request was not valid under section 15, then she has the responsibility to assist the applicant to make the request valid. I am of the opinion that the sentences: "As your request is for information it is not a valid request under the FOI Act and cannot be processed in its current form. If you would like to resubmit your request please consider which documents you are after" falls very far short of the standard that is expected. The decision that the request was invalid in the whole, is wrong. Were it correct, the advice (but I think that this is too generous) is insufficient.

Suggestion: Make some play with the words so that you can use "document" or "record of information" instead of only "information". Consider, with the suggestion from the officer, whether you can make the request tighter so you do not get a refusal for a "practical refusal reason". My suggestion also, is to consider whether to complain. A complaint is not the same as a request and it is better to make a complaint separate from a request; access is in Part III of the Act, but complaints are in Part VIIB. Also to remember that a complaint is not whining, and it is best talk about the response of the department and not about a particular person.

There is a final thing I must say. It is about "information". Everything I have said earlier is, I believe, correct. But is a subtle way, it is correct to say that the FOI Act for the Commonwealth does not find valid some request for information. It is valid to ask for a record of information that exists; that is a document! But it is not valid to require the government agency to do research to create the information. For example, a person maybe would like a summary of something (perhaps expenses) but the summary does not exist. The person could instead ask for access to each expense record but that might require a lot of decision time from the agency. I have seen in some requests on Right to Know that there is different behaviour from different departments. Department of Finance (I cannot find an example now) has sometimes said, "The documents you have asked for are a great many. Will it be acceptable to you to have a summary to give you the important information." Some other departments are not so good.

As always, "Held og lykke!"

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From: Anonymouse-

Delivered

Dear FOI,

Please allow me to respond to your reply.

"The Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act) makes it clear in section 15 that a request, in order to be valid, must be a request for documents, rather than a request for information. As your request is for information it is not a valid request under the FOI Act and cannot be processed in its current form."

I have indicated the kinds of information I seek in my opening paragraph:

'the PM&C's internal social media guidelines, policies, procedures and training manuals.'

One would assume that such guidelines, policies, procedures and training manuals would be in document form. Perhaps it is a case of semantics? However I find no mention under Section 15 of the FOI Act of which words must be used in a request, and the definition of 'documents' as per the Act is very broad.

Therefore allow me to clarify the opening part of my request;

I seek any documents pertaining to the PM&C's internal social media guidelines, policies, procedures and training manuals.

Specifically I seek any documents which detail the PM&C's handling procedures, policies and guidelines of communications via the Twitter channel, @TonyAbbottMHR, the Tony Abbott Facebook page, facebook.com/TonyAbbottMP , and commenting on online platforms such as Reddit.com and news sites which provide commenting functions.

___________________________

I will provide further clarification to my bullet points to facilitate the timely delivery of my request for documents as well.

Of particular interest includes, (please note that additional comments follow ##-):

1. Which staff members are responsible for producing, implementing, and overseeing these procedures, policies and guidelines. ##- The PM&C's organisational chart published on the internet does not provide detail of who is responsible for the Prime Minister's social media handling.

2. Which staff members have access to post communications via these channels ##- I would like to identify which members of staff are able to login and post communications on the Prime Minister's behalf.

2.a. How frequently posts to these channels are made by members of staff other than Prime Minister Abbott. ##- Nothing additional to note

2.b. Under what circumstances are the posting of communications to these channels delegated to staff members rather than being posted by Prime Minister Abbott himself. ##- One would expect to find such information in a procedures document.

3. What goals and/or targets have been set to increase the number of followers/fans reached via these channels ##- Nothing additional to note

3.a. Details regarding methods for reaching these goals/targets ##- Nothing additional to note

3.b. Details of any campaigns in which third parties have received payment with the objective of assisting in reaching these targets/goals ##- Nothing additional to note

4. Any words or terms which are internally prohibited from use on these channels ##- One would expect to find this information in a procedures document.

5. Any topics or issues which are internally prohibited from being discussed and or replied to via these channels. ##- One would expect to find this information in a procedures document.

I therefore request any documents that may provide information regarding these points.

"If you would like to resubmit your request please consider which documents you are after. Please bear in mind that all requests must be of a manageable size for an agency to be able to process. If a request is too large, an agency may refuse to process it based on it being a substantial and unreasonable diversion of its resources (s24AA). In the case of a Minister the matter may be refused if it would unreasonably interfere with the performance of the Minister’s functions."

I hope I have been able to steer you in the direction of the documents I seek with this additional information.

I request that any documents that are to be made available be provided in electronic format.

Yours sincerely,

Anonymouse-

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From: FOI
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet


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Please see attached.

 

FOI Adviser

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

02 6271 5849

e. [1][DPMC request email]

 

The Department acknowledges the traditional owners of country throughout
Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We
pay our respects to them and their cultures and to their elders both past
and present.

[2]Description: Description: Description: FOI design element

 

 

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From: Anonymouse-

Delivered

Dear FOI,

regarding your letter FOI/2014/066 dated 20 May 2014, I would like to clarify a few items.

Firstly, I dispute Mr Neal's claim that searching out these emails would be burdensome. I have tailored my request to the Twitter and Facebook accounts associated with the Prime Minister. Email correspondence regarding these accounts could easily be obtained with the built-in search function and would take 5 minutes for any person to conduct such a search.

However I am not interested in emails or written correspondence which detail the PM&C's social media policy to external departments, these can be excluded from my request.

I am seeking internal documents, what one might refer to as working documents, the types of which may be guidelines, procedures, policies, plans, reports etc. which dictate the communications and use of these social media platforms specifically related to the Prime Minister's accounts.

It is difficult for me to be specific with the lack of public information available. The PM&C's org chart does not make mention of social media, however it is reasonable to assume that the PM would delegate access to these accounts to staff given he's busy running the country.

If this is incorrect, and only Mr Abbott has access to these channels, then the request would be modified to:

Any internal working documents, procedures, reports, policies or guidelines received by the Prime Minister advising on use of his Twitter account @TonyAbbottMHP and his Facebook Page, facebook.com/TonyAbbottMP .

However, I would find it difficult to believe that our nation's leader is the sole person with access to his social media accounts. So going off the assumption that other staff members have access to post communications to these channels on the PM's behalf, it stands to reason that there would be written guidelines, policies, procedures etc. that staff would need to adhere to when posting such communications to avoid PR fiascos.

These specifically are the documents I am seeking in my Freedom of Information Act request. I will provide some examples that I might expect the PM&C's office to hold:

1) A document which outlines the staff and reporting structure pertaining to posting via the PM's social media channels. This might be a flowchart, a Presentation, Training Manual or the like and most likely contains login details for other staff to gain access to these platforms which obviously would need to be redacted.

2) Guidelines which dictate topics or issues which staff members are to avoid when posting to these platforms. This again might be a Presentation, or a report, which might tell staff to avoid certain controversial issues or to avoid replying to people who use foul language.

3) Guidelines or policies regarding the wording of these communications. Again, this might be a Presentation or report and could conceivably be the same document as point 2) here. This document one would expect would include words which are not to be used when posting via these channels, eg. foul language, words which have negative connotations, racist or sexist terms etc.

4) Reports, contracts, meeting briefs, presentations etc. created for information to third parties who have been contracted to assist with either strategy, posting communications, target setting, and audience building for the PM's social media channels.

5) Documents such as reports or presentations which detail the frequency of posts made to these channels by persons other than the PM.

These are merely examples and are not an exhaustive list of what the PM&C's office may hold, merely the types of documents one would expect them to hold if anyone other than the PM himself has access to his Twitter and Facebook accounts.

I believe it is strongly in the public's interest to have this information made available, particularly after the criticism Mr Abbott received in April 2014 after @TonyAbbottMHP tweeted a photo of the PM on the phone accompanying an update about flight MH370 - a tweet which was widely reported and criticised by media outlets such as SMH, The Guardian, News.com.au and a raft of others in the wake of a similar tweet by the British PM, David Cameron, just a month earlier.

It is important for Australians to know whether Mr Abbott is writing all of these communications himself, or if someone else is doing so on his behalf which to date, has not been made public knowledge and would obviously change the way in which these communications are viewed by the Australian public.

As such, I request that all fees for this request be waived so that the information can readily enter the public domain.

Thank you,

Anonymouse

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From: FOI
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet


Attachment FOI Anonymouse Right to Know decision letter.pdf
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Attachment FOI fact sheet13 how to make a complaint.pdf
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Attachment Fact Sheet 12.pdf
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UNCLASSIFIED For Official Use Only

Please see attached.

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Ben Fairless left an annotation ()

I decided to make a request to the Prime Minister directly as they are separate under FOI: https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/s...

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From: Anonymouse-

Delivered

Dear Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's handling of my FOI request 'Prime Ministerial communications via social media'.

This request has been poorly handled from start to finish. The first response drafted by the FOI Officer showed a lack of understanding of FOI laws in claiming that requests must be "for documents", although no such requirement is to be found under the Act.

Following which, the Officer's placing of the burden back to me to fix the request without providing assistance to make the request valid, as required under the Act, strongly indicates this request was not being taken seriously and efforts were being made to delay the final outcome.

Then just a few days after my request was denied, Sarah Whyte of the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the PM&C has 37 staff dedicated "to monitor social media and offer strategic communications advice costing taxpayers almost $4.3 million a year."

LINK: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/t...

Quite how Mr. Neal can be satisfied that no "documents pertaining to the PM&C's internal social media guidelines, policies, procedures and training manuals" exist is beyond comprehension. It is simply not possible for 37 staff (or up to $4.5 Million worth of taxpayer funded salaries) in the PM&C's office to be working without any documented direction, the very documents my FOI request sought to access.

Therefore, one of two possibilities exist. Either the article in the SMH is a ludicrous lie, or, Mr. Neal's assertions that no such documents exist are a lie.

If the article were a lie, the PM&C's office would have issued a firm denial, or at the very least, forced the SMH to run a correction. Four days after the story ran, no further coverage has been made so it is reasonable to assume the claims are not being contested.

Therefore I am lead to believe that Mr. Neal's denial of my application is based on a lie. Such documents must exist in some form; 37 staff are not operating without direction when it comes to influencing the discourse in Australian social media at the Prime Ministerial level; to make such a claim would indicate gross negligence on the PM’s behalf of frivolously wasting taxpayer’s money.

Furthermore, part of my request was blatantly ignored:

"1. Which staff members are responsible for producing, implementing, and overseeing these procedures, policies and guidelines. ##- The PM&C's organisational chart published on the internet does not provide detail of who is responsible for the Prime Minister's social media handling."

Clearly I was seeking information very similar to that revealed in the aforementioned article. I had reviewed the organisational chart published by the PM&C and was unable to determine any persons who were engaged in social media work for the department.

Section 8 of the Act states:

Information that must be published

(2) The agency must publish the following information:

(b) details of the structure of the agency's organisation (for example, in the form of an organisation chart);

The organisational chart published by the PM&C’s Office, last updated 2 April 2014 does not include a single job title which could obviously be linked to social media management. This information is required under law to be published, it should most definitely have been revealed under my FOI request after I noted it impossible to discern which staff were working on social media for the PM; and yet it took a journalist to unearth these staff.

I would ask that my FOI request is thoroughly reviewed in light of the inconsistencies I have drawn attention to, and that the documents I have requested be made publicly available in a timely fashion.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/p...

Yours faithfully,

Anonymouse-

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From: FOI
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet


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Dear Anonymouse

 

Thank you for your email dated 9 July 2014 requesting an internal review
of the decision dated 29 May 2014 on your initial request.

 

Section 54B of the FOI Act states that an application for internal review
must be in writing and must be made within 30 days, or such further period
as the agency allows, after the decision is notified to the applicant for
internal review.

 

The decision was notified on 29 May 2014. Your request for internal review
was received on 9 July 2014, 41 days after the decision was notified.

 

The Office of the Information Commissioner Guidelines on internal review
provide that an applicant generally has 30 calendar days after being
notified of the agency’s access refusal to apply for an internal review.
We do not propose allowing an extension of time beyond the due date in
this instance. The guidelines states that  there may be no benefit in
extending the time for applying for review of an access grant decision for
example if the documents have already been released.   In an extension of
this example, as the decision was that no documents existed, granting an
extension of time would not be of any benefit as the Department is
satisfied that there are still no documents existing so the decision would
not change.  Your understanding of and assumptions concerning the report
in the Sydney Morning Herald that you refer to are not correct.

 

You are still able to apply to the Information Commissioner for an
Information Commissioner review.  I have attached a fact sheet for your
information. A person is not required to apply for an internal review
before they apply for an IC review.

 

An applicant who is refused an extension of time by an agency may also
make a fresh request under s15 of the FOI Act.

 

 

FOI Adviser

Legal Policy Branch

Government Division | Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

p. 02 6271 5849

e. [1][DPMC request email] | [2][email address]

 

The Department acknowledges the traditional owners of country throughout
Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We
pay our respects to them and their cultures and to their elders both past
and present.

[3]Description: Description: Description: FOI design element

 

 

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