British government publishes Twitter guidelines

The office of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has started using Twitter to communicate with the public. On Tuesday, the British government published guidelines on using the micro-blogging service in its various departments.

Today, the British government embraces the Twitter revolution in full-force. On Tuesday, it released guidelines to all civil servants on using the micro-blogging service in hopes of finding new ways to communicate with the public, according to The Associated Press.

Twitter has been used by governments in Denmark, Israel, Spain, Canada, and the US. Barack Obama's Twitter personal feed prompts Americans to Tweet messages to Congress. And the White House, which was thought to have banned Twitter earlier this week, also operates a Twitter feed.

In Britain, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Office are among those who have started using Twitter on a regular basis.  Now, other government departments will join these offices in producing between two and 10 tweets per day, which will be approved before they are posted, according to the guidelines. (Click here for a primer on Twitter terms.) In addition to waiting at least 30 minutes between each Twitter update, civil servants are also advised not to follow anyone who isn't following them.

The guidelines sketch out the many ways Twitter could be used by the British government, including the broadcasting of announcements or comments from ministers, on various department Twitter feeds. The rules also mention the possibility of asking questions and providing answers via Twitter, and using the service as an effective internal communication tool between departments in "the event of a major incident."

The fact that the British government has written a 20-page document – detailing the basics on how to use Twitter – shows significant faith in a single, private (and American) company. But the briefing may help prepare government employees for the many issues that come with online life. In June, someone created a fake Twitter feed posing as Britain's foreign secretary, David Miliband. One of Miliband's fake tweets regarding the death of Michael Jackson was immediately picked up by the media, which immediately led to an explanatory tweet from England's Foreign and Commonwealth Office: "David Miliband does NOT have a Twitter account."

Perhaps these newly instilled Twitter guidelines will adequately prepare government officials on how to respond to similar situations in the future.

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