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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Federal Government Issues Guidelines on Employee Use of Social Media

On April 9, 2015, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics issued a legal advisory titled "The Standards of Conduct as Applied to Personal Social Media Use" that apply to executive branch employees of the federal government.  You can read the legal advisory here.  

The introduction to the legal advisory states that the standards of conduct are not intended to prohibit executive branch employees from establishing and maintaining personal social media accounts but to serve as guidelines for these employees in engaging in personal social media activities.  

Here's a preview of the standards of conduct:

1.  Use of Government Time and Property

When employees are on-duty, they must make an "honest effort to perform official duties."  That means that access and use of personal social media accounts should be limited while on duty.  Further, government property must be used only to perform official duties unless an employee is authorized to use the property for other purposes.  Finally, employees must follow their agency policies on social media use, including any 'limited use" policies.

2.  Reference to Government Title or Position & Appearance of Official Sanction

As a general rule, employees are prohibited from using their official titles, positions, or any authority associated with their public offices for private gain or in any manner that could be interpreted as government endorsement of their activities. However, the standards do not prohibit an employee from identifying his or her official title or position on the site's biographical information area.  The standards set out 7 factors for agency ethics officers to consider in determining whether an employee has violated this standard, including whether an employee states that he or she is "acting on behalf of the government" or "refers to his or her connection to the government as support for the employee's statements."  Employees are not required to post disclaimers disavowing government endorsement, although they are encouraged to clarify that their communications reflect only their personal views and not the views of the federal government or agency.

3.   Recommending and Endorsing Others on Social Media

Employees are permitted to make recommendations or endorsements of others in their personal capacity, such as on LinkedIn.

4.  Seeking Employment Through Social Media

Employees must be cautious in using social media to seek employment to ensure that their conduct complies with other federal regulations, including applicable disqualification requirements and any additional agency regulations.  Posting a resume or summary of professional experience will not violate the standards.

5.  Disclosing Nonpublic Information

Employees are prohibited from disclosing nonpublic information to further their private interests or the private interests of others.

6.  Personal Fundraising

Employees may use personal social media accounts to fundraise for nonprofit charitable organizations in a personal capacity, so long as the employee does not personally solicit funds from a subordinate or a known prohibited source.  Employees may not use their official titles, positions, or authority to further fundraising efforts.

7.  Official Social Media Accounts

Employees who use official government accounts must apply with the agency directives, regulations, and policies and all conduct and activities must be for official purposes.

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