Feds get guidance on social media posting

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Federal employees may need to be a bit more cautious with their social media habits from now on.

The Office of Government Ethics last week issued a legal advisory on how the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch applies to the workforce’s use of social media. The rules, spurred by “the increased volume of questions that OGE receives from various agencies seeking advice in this area,” are fairly straightforward extensions of OGE’s standards of conduct. They also hold the same penalties, up to firing, for violators.

While the office doesn’t forbid federal employees from maintaining a social media account, it advises them to limit the capacity in which they do so as a public agent.

“In general, the Standards of Conduct prohibit employees from using their official titles, positions, or any authority associated with their public offices for private gain,” the advisory from OGE General Counsel David J. Apol says.

As long as the government employees don’t gain from their activity on Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms, the rules don’t seem to prohibit staffers from identifying themselves with their official title. And if any confusion arises on the personal nature of social media posts, OGE recommends staffers use a disclaimer.

“A clear and conspicuous disclaimer will usually be sufficient to dispel any confusion that arises,” the office wrote.

As you might assume, federal employees shouldn’t use social media on government time or property, seek further employment on social media, or disclose nonpublic information in posts.

However, federal employees “may use personal social media accounts to fundraise for nonprofit charitable organizations in a personal capacity,” the advisory says. They just can’t “‘personally solicit’ funds from a subordinate or a known prohibited source.” Feds are even allowed to endorse or recommend people for their skills on social media sites like LinkedIn.

OGE says the new advisory isn’t comprehensive, and agency ethics officials should consult one of the office’s representatives should an ethical dilemma arise. The office plans to release more guidance addressing any questions that arise outside of this advisory.

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