Federal workers get guidance for using social media during presidential election season

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Federal workers can identify their political inclinations when using social media under revised guidance issued by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

The revised guidance, issued last week, addresses the Hatch Act restrictions and the use of social media and email, especially during the 2016 presidential election.

Under the Hatch Act, federal employees cannot engage in any political activity while on duty or in the workplace, engage in political in an official capacity, or solicit political contributions. In light of expanded use of social media in a worker's private and official time, the revised guidance clarifies federal workers' use of social media and email as it related to political activity.

The Special Counsel provides guidance in three areas relating to an employee's “Facebook” and “Twitter” account: the use of campaign logos, candidate photographs, and posts from a partisan group or candidate.

Federal employees will be allowed to “display campaign logos or candidate photographs as their cover or header photo situated at the top of their social media profiles.”

They can also “display campaign logos or candidate photographs as their profile pictures on their personal accounts.” However, they are not allowed when on duty or at the workplace “to post, “share,” “tweet.” or “retweet,” any items. Such action would show support for a particular group or candidate, according to the guidance.

Further restricted employees” (mostly federal employees working in law enforcement or intelligence agencies) may “like” a post from a partisan group or candidate and can comment on a group's or candidate's page while not at work. However, these employees may not “like” at any time a post that solicits contributions

Even with this revised guidance, some situations are not clear cut for federal employees. For further information, employees can view the Frequently Asked Questions guidance referred to in the Special Counsel memorandum. 

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