Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

BC Minister's order made government's social media use legal

It required a ministerial order from Citizens' Services minister Ben Stewart to make the provincial government's use of websites like YouTube and Twitter legal, but the government had already been using such sites for several months before Stewart signed that order.

A public body may disclose people's personal information, the Dec. 17 order said, if the individual has already shared it on a social media site and the head of the body is satisfied “the personal information was obtained or compiled for the purpose of enabling the public body to engage individuals inside and outside British Columbia in public discussion and promotion respecting proposed or existing initiatives, policies, proposals, programs and legislation of the public body.”

The order, which will automatically be rescinded in three years, is made under B.C.'s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which bars the storage of British Columbians' personal information outside the country. It says “personal information” includes a person's name, image and opinion and that “social media sites” include blogs and websites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

“Most people are familiar with Facebook, YouTube and those type of situations,” Stewart said yesterday. “Currently legislation doesn't allow us to be able to use those tools in government because of the hosting outside of Canada. I thought that it was necessary that we take steps because of things like H1N1.”

The government decided it needed to make it legal to share information through social media sites, he said. “Clearly a large percentage of the population gets their information from government that way.”

But at least eight of the videos posted on the B.C. Government's YouTube channel predate Stewart's order and the official government Twitter feed goes back to Nov. 18, 2009. A spokesperson for the ministry said Twitter accounts were used to communicate forest fire information in July and H1N1 updates in May.

Asked today if the government's use of Twitter and YouTube before Dec. 17 had been illegal, Stewart said, “I'm not aware of that . . . I don't have that same information we were using it prior to that.”

The ministerial order was issued at the same time as the government began using YouTube, Stewart said. “At the same time we talked about we were going to be putting up a YouTube site we discussed the fact we would be using a ministerial order to allow the government to do that and that's what I did,” he said. “We wanted to make sure it was within the proper confines of what the rules are around that.”

A spokesperson for the Citizens' Services ministry later said the issue arose in July and there were differing opinions on whether use of the social media sites was in contravention of the freedom of information and protection of privacy act. The minister issued the order out of an abundance of caution, he said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

Find more in:

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus