Propriety in digital and social media

Digital technology has revolutionised the way in which people communicate and share information at local, national and international levels. Civil servants need to understand these changes, and their impact, so that they can operate effectively in a dynamic media environment.  The role of His Majesty’s Government (HMG) digital teams is to find the most effective way to reach the public via digital channels with our most important messages. With that in mind digital teams will produce content for government owned channels as well as arranging innovative, collaborative partnerships with digital media, influencers and creators to engage audiences who don’t follow our accounts. 

The principles covering the use of social media by civil servants in both an official and personal capacity are the same as those that apply to any other media.  Civil servants must adhere to the Civil Service Code online, as well as offline. (Further information about the Civil Service Code is available on the main GCS Propriety Guidance page). Social media is a public forum and the same considerations apply as would to speaking in public or writing something for publication, either officially or in a personal capacity outside of work.

Any content produced by the Civil Service must be relevant to government responsibilities and a justifiable use of public funds. The same principle applies to social media content and photography.  Photographs taken and published by No10 and departmental photographers are public domain and any organisation can use them.

Five key things to remember

Here are five things to bear in mind when using social and digital media, either at work or in a personal capacity:

  1. Common sense: social media helps us work openly and connect with the citizens we serve – apply common sense.  If you have any doubts, don’t post it. 
  2. Adhere to the Civil Service Code: apply the same standards online as are required offline, whether acting in an official or personal capacity. 
  3. Accuracy: check the accuracy and sensitivity of what you are posting before pressing submit.
  4. Permanence: remember that once something is posted online, it’s very difficult to remove it.
  5. Align resources with priorities: team resources should be allocated based on delivering departmental and Ministerial priorities.   

It may be useful to read the Government Digital Service’s Social Media Playbook, which makes the case for using social media and provides helpful practical tips on creating and running social media accounts.  The GCS Digital Communication discipline guide is also a useful resource. 

Guidance on ministerial social media accounts 

It may be appropriate for content produced for government accounts to be shared on ministerial accounts to help maximise impact.  Where this is the case, Ministers may only draw on official content already released. Content created by civil servants should always be used as part of official government communications before being repurposed by Special Advisers or Ministers for political purposes.

Where Ministers do choose to repost such content, care must be taken to ensure that official resources are not being used for party political purposes (e.g. no tagging of political figures or parties, and no political slogans).  

Checklist for running a departmental or policy social media account

  1. Party Political: for original messages and reposts, check that there is nothing party political within the body of the message or contained within links. Official accounts must not be used for the further dissemination of messages from party political or otherwise partisan accounts.
  2. Opinions: Government communicators are able to represent the views and opinions of Ministers only as they relate to HM Government, department issues and policies.
  3. Parliament: at all times government communicators must respect the primacy of Parliament. This means, for example, that a policy cannot be announced on social media before Parliament has been informed.
  4. Polemical: be sensitive to tone and guard against perceived attacks on particular interests, organisations or individuals.
  5. Understanding: don’t act on autopilot; ensure that you have read and fully understand messages before reposting. 
  6. Commercial: we encourage activity that promotes UK trade and economic growth, and we support partnership working with business, the wider public and private sectors. We do not provide links that offer undue endorsement, or may be perceived as offering unfair commercial advantage to third parties. For guidance see Planning and Delivering Effective Communications Partnership Strategies.
  7. Confidential: at all times respect confidentiality, financial, legal and personal information. Do not discuss policy that has yet to be announced. Do not discuss ministerial movements.
  8. Personal: do not disclose personal information about Ministers or about yourself. An informal tone of voice is often desirable within agreed boundaries, but remember that when using official accounts you are the voice of the department. Do not make personal comments or respond to someone being abusive about you, the department or Ministers.
  9. Isolation: posts need to have links and context. For example, to help ensure it makes sense, wherever possible a media rebuttal should link to the story you’re responding to.
  10. Remember you are representing your department and you should therefore apply the same high standards of accuracy as for all other official communications.

Work-related personal accounts

It is often appropriate for named civil servants to run a work-related social media account, particularly where a civil servant has some form of public profile or is using social media in a direct work-related capacity – for example, in open policy making.

The above checklist applies to such accounts which must operate in accordance with the Civil Service Code, social media guidance for civil servants and relevant departmental guidance.

Please remember:

  • People reply to and comment on government posts: to be effective social media must be considered a two-way communication channel.
  • News and campaigns are only a small proportion of the government’s social media use. Social media channels are used for customer contact and to support strategic policy and delivery priorities. At all times ensure that messages adhere to any agreed house style, and are polite and helpful.

Use of statistics 

It may be appropriate for content produced for social media channels to use statistics in the form of graphs, charts or tables, in order to provide evidence for the impact of government policies and initiatives and to deliver on communications objectives.

When visualising statistics it is important that civil servants do this in a way that is accurate, contextual and officially sourced.

Any charts, tables or images which include statistics should be subject to enhanced clearance processes including, if necessary, escalation to your Director of Communications or Permanent Secretary.

Paid social media

It may be appropriate for digital teams to utilise paid-for social media boosting in order to help their content reach intended audiences and support the delivery of policy and communications objectives. 

If there is clear and demonstrable evidence that this is the most efficient way to engage hard-to-reach audiences with important government messaging, a business case should be submitted to your Director of Communications for approval. 

The use of paid social media should only be deployed to help achieve a SMART communications objective, not just to amplify content to improve social media engagement metrics. 

Further help and support

If in doubt, contact your line manager or your Director or Head of Communications.  You can also contact Simon Baugh (GCS Chief Executive) or Gem Walsh (GCS Chief Operating Officer) at

This guidance was updated in April 2024, to include link to the GCS Digital discipline guide, plus guidance on the use of statistics and paid-for social media.