27 October 2010

Facebook language issues for the public sector in Wales

Facebook language issues for the public sector in Wales: "

Under UK law, Welsh public sector sites have to be available in both English and Welsh, which is fine for webistes, but what about Facebook?

This is a question I have been asked several times over the last few days, having run a webinar on Facebook for the public sector on Thursday and workshops for the Welsh fire services on Friday and South Wales Police on Monday.The question goes right to the heart of what social media means and the loss of power it represents for organisations (be they companies, charities, or public sector).

Somebody who runs a Facebook page (e.g. the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service) can post their copy in English, Welsh, or both. However, when people post their comments they will choose which language they want to use.

I have been asked whether Facebook can be set up in Welsh? The answer is yes, but because Facebook is a Web 2.0 service, each user can decide what they want their Facebook to be (as shown in image below, using Account/Account Settings/Language).


Somebody who wants to create a page can set their Facebook to be in Welsh (or French or a wide range of languages), but this does not affect what the user sees. The user will see Facebook in their chosen language.

In Facebook there is a clear demarcation between the language of the application (which is determined by the user) and the language of the posts (which is determined by the page’s owner).

So, what should a Wales-based public sector Facebook do? Having spoken to several people, there seems to be a consensus that if about half the posts are in English and about half are in Welsh, that might be OK. However, I would expect to see vocal arguments from people advocating either a) everything should be in both English and Welsh (to avoid Welsh being pushed to one side) or b) everything should be in English (because that is what most people expect on the internet).