Chapter 5. Your Responsibilities
- If you determine that a social media product will enhance your customer’s experience, first, get permission from the person in your Service or Staff Office who has the authority to allow the use of social media.
- Request permission to use a social media product from the Office of Communications and Marketing (OCM) at email@example.com. If approved, they will assist you with planning, implementation requirements and monitoring and metric reporting requirements for the social media product(s). It is important that you coordinate with OCM before starting use of the social media product. Improper implementation could require the tool’s use be discontinued or reconfigured.
- Clearly define the subject matter that will be the focus of your social media efforts. Work with OCM to determine the activities and frequency of those activities that will be needed (e.g., posts per week, 1 hour to respond to customer inquiries, etc.)
- You’ll also need to define, collect and report metrics that measure whether your outreach is effective (e.g., comments per post, customer satisfaction, etc.);
- You must follow any standards, guidelines and best practices issued by OCM. All exceptions need to be coordinated beforehand.
In addition, you should:
Minimize Your Risk
Social media tools and technologies such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, offer you powerful channels to deliver targeted marketing and outreach messages when, where and how users want information. The use of social media for federal services and interactions is growing tremendously, supported by initiatives from the administration, directives from government leaders, and demands from the public. Again, it is your responsibility to read and apply GSA’s IT General Rules of Behavior (GSA-only link) and read Appendix E, "Risks and Mitigation Strategies," which provides recommendations and a checklist to protect our network security.
Various laws and regulations may prohibit the disclosure of certain information. The Privacy Act, Procurement Integrity Act [PDF - 173 KB], Freedom of Information Act, National Defense Authorization Act of 2016, Executive Order 13556 Controlled Unclassified Information and Executive Order 13526 Classified National Security Information limit what can be shared with unauthorized individuals. These laws and order, for example, prohibit disclosure of certain privacy related information, source selection information, contractor proposal information, and classified information. You should not disclose nonpublic information through social media activities. In addition, GSA has a specific policy (GSA-only link) to protect sensitive but unclassified (SBU) building information for GSA-controlled space. GSA-controlled space includes owned, leased, and delegated Federal facilities. The Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch prohibit employees from using nonpublic information to further their own or another's private interests, whether through advice or recommendation, or by knowing about an unauthorized disclosure. Nonpublic information is information you receive because of your federal employment that you know, or reasonably should know, has not been made available to the general public.
Some examples of nonpublic information are:
- information covered under the Privacy Act
- classified information
- proprietary information from private-sector vendors or contractors
- information designated as exempt under FOIA
- source selection information on contracts or grants
- sensitive but unclassified information
- confidential business information as defined by federal law
Remember, what is true on the phone, snail mail or email is equally true using social media. If it's not public information, it should not appear on GSA's social media sites.
About Endorsements of Products, Services, or Businesses
You cannot use your government position, title, or any authority associated with your public office to endorse any product, service or business. This restriction applies whether you use social media in your official capacity or personal capacity. The use of GSA social media accounts and tools in an official capacity is part of the authority associated with your public office. For example, if you're using social media in your official capacity, you can't post a statement saying "GSA should negotiate a terms of service agreement with Twitter because Twitter is the best platform for public communication." This statement endorses Twitter by stating that Twitter is the "best" platform for communication. However, if you're using social media in your official capacity, you could post a statement such as "GSA just negotiated a terms of service agreement with Twitter, which will provide GSA with a platform to communicate with the public." This is a statement of fact versus an opinion and an endorsement. Avoid endorsing or appearing to endorse any private interests or nonfederal groups.
Section 508 Standards (Accessibility)
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, requires that electronic and information technologies purchased, maintained, or used by the federal government meet certain accessibility standards. That means making Web-based content accessible for people with disabilities so they have access to the same information as everyone else. Agencies employing non-federal social media services still must ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to those services. You can use this handy checklist to ensure the accessibility of your content, particularly captioning videos. Contact GSA’s Section 508 coordinator if you have questions or complaint.
Practice Proper Records Management
When you use electronic media, whether it's a blog, a website, email or any other type of electronic communication, know that the regulations that govern proper management, archival and release of records still apply. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) offers resources and guidance to agencies to ensure proper records management. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for questions about records management at GSA. You can also take records management training designed by NARA on GSA's DigitalGov University.
- NARA Bulletin 2014-02, Guidance on managing social media records
- NARA regulations and guidance, including Implications of Recent Web Technologies for NARA Web Guidance
- NARA Bulletin 2010-05, Guidance on Managing Records in Cloud Computing Environments
- OMB Circular A-130
Know the Laws for Information Collection
Agencies must, when practicable, use electronic forms and filing to conduct official business with the public, and social media technologies can be used in many cases to meet this need. Federal public websites must ensure information collected from the public minimizes burden and maximizes public utility. The Paperwork Reduction Act covers the collection of data from the public; it requires OMB approval of all surveys given to 10 or more participants. This includes any sort of survey where identical questions are given to ten or more participants. The exception to the survey rule is an anonymous submission form where users can provide open-ended comments or suggestions without any sort of government guidance on the content. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act also has rules about communication and collection of data from people younger than 13. If you have questions about these acts, contact GSA’s Office of General Counsel. OMB has approved the use of a fast-track process by agencies for some information collection which can be useful for social media related surveys and questionnaires. Contact GSA’s Privacy Act Officer to learn more.
- Federal Information Collection (OMB)
- Children's Online Privacy Protection Act
- 2010 OMB Memo on Social Media, Interactive Technologies and the Paperwork Reduction Act
- GSA’s Office of General Counsel
- GSA’s Privacy Act Officer (GSA-only link)
The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires the federal government to write all new publications, forms, and publicly distributed documents in a "clear, concise, well-organized" manner. Visit www.plainlanguage.gov for examples of plain language and information on free training. Communicating in plain language means the audience can quickly and easily find what they need, understand what they find and act appropriately on that understanding.
Meet Information Quality Standards
The public places a high degree of trust in dot-gov content and considers it an authoritative source. Under the Information Quality Act, agencies must maximize the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information and services provided to the public. With social media information dissemination products, agencies must reasonably ensure suitable information and service quality consistent with the level of importance of the information. Reasonable steps include: clearly identifying the benefits and limitations inherent in the information dissemination product (e.g., possibility of errors, degree of reliability, and validity); and taking reasonable steps to remove the limitations inherent in the product or information produced. Content creators and agency management should ensure that the agency position, rather than one person’s opinion, is reflected in all communications.
Ensure Meaningful Access by People with Limited English Proficiency
Executive Order 13166 requires that people with limited English proficiency have meaningful access to an agency's federally conducted programs and activities in order to prevent national origin discrimination. The use of social media technologies to communicate and collaborate with citizens is a federally conducted activity. To ensure meaningful access by people with limited English proficiency, an agency must conduct an assessment that balances several factors including the number or proportion of eligible people with limited English proficiency, the frequency of contact, the nature and importance of the program or activity, and the availability of resources. If necessary (based on this four-factor analysis), an organization must develop and implement a limited English proficiency plan.
Protect Intellectual Property
The use and management of social media technologies raises several questions about the legal concepts of copyright, fair use, and intellectual property ownership. Agencies should be diligent to ensure they consider existing intellectual property laws when implementing social media technologies. Government content can sometimes be free from copyright per 17 USC 105, but this is not always true, especially where images are concerned, especially if the government is using the images under license. In addition, government websites may have names or logos that are protected under trademark law. Thus, content on government websites cannot automatically be assumed to be free of intellectual property rights and available for any individual or site provider wishing to use it.
Social media technologies that allow public contribution of content may also create challenges about the protection of intellectual property contributed by visitors. Agencies must post clear disclaimers detailing the copyrights that nongovernment contributors may retain, and provide clear guidance on the reuse of trademarked phrases or logos. Also, you should post clear disclaimers detailing liability if a member of the public's post violates another's intellectual property. Please note that the GSA Starmark is registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the GSA seal is protected by criminal statute. Contact GSA’s Office of General Counsel with specific questions.
- U.S. Trademark and Patent Office
- GSA’s Office of General Counsel
- Guidance on Using GSA’s Branding Images (GSA-only link)
The government requires public-facing websites to conduct privacy impact assessments if they collect personally identifiable information (PII). They should post a “Privacy Act Statement” that describes the agency’s legal authority for collecting personal data and how the data will be used. Privacy policies on each website also must be in a standardized machine-readable format such as the Platform for Privacy Preferences Project, or P3P. Information on Web 2.0 platforms is accessible by others, so don't disclose information protected by the Privacy Act or other PII unless you're authorized to do so in that medium. In addition, the Federal CIO Council has created a Privacy Best Practices for Social Media guide.
Resource: GSA’s Privacy Program
Provide Data in a Usable Format
Many social media technologies allow users to take data from one website and combine it with data from another, commonly referred to as “mashups.” Agency public websites are required to provide most data in an open, machine readable, industry standard format that permits users to use data to meet their needs. Agencies should ensure these open industry standard formats are followed to maximize use of their data. The Digital Government Strategy initiated in 2012 encourages all agencies to make their information more usable than in the past which helps in the development of applications and also to improve mobile technologies.
Adhere to Lobbying Rules
The U.S. Code prohibits the use of appropriated funds to lobby a member of Congress. You can't use these funds "... directly or indirectly to pay for any personal service, advertisement, telegram, telephone, letter, printed or written matter, or other device, intended or designed to influence in any manner a Member of Congress, a jurisdiction, or an official of any government to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation, whether before or after the introduction of any bill, measure, or resolution proposing such legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation. ..." Appropriated funds can extend to pay for employees’ salaries, equipment, office space, and so forth. These restrictions also apply to social media. Refer any questions to GSA’s Office of General Counsel.
Resource: OMB Policies for Federal Public Websites
Avoid Political Activity (Hatch Act)
Even though social media is widely used in politics, the general rules that apply to government communications haven’t changed. In your use of official social media tools, avoid any topics that may violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits you from being politically active while on duty, in any government space, in uniform or in a government vehicle. Political activity is any activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group. In addition, even when you are acting in your personal capacity, on your own time and in your own space, you may not use your official title while participating in political activity, use your official authority to coerce any person to participate in political activity, or solicit or receive political contributions. These restrictions apply 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, regardless of whether you are acting in an official or personal capacity.
Know When the Federal Advisory Committee Act Applies
Since many social media technologies excel at enabling information-sharing across the Internet, government programs may use them to share ideas on current and future plans, to gather opinions about a variety of issues and to strengthen the relationship between the public and government. Depending on circumstances (such as targeting specific experts for an online discussion of proposed policy); some of these efforts may meet the functional definition of a virtual or electronic advisory group. Those would fall under the purview of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. An advisory group meeting held in virtual space instead of office space isn't exempt from the government’s rules on such activities.
The Federal Advisory Committee Act applies when:
- a federal agency establishes or uses an advisory group that has at least one member who is not a federal employee; and
- the government is managing and controlling the group in any way, such as selecting members, setting an agenda or consolidating results generated by the group of participants.
The Federal Advisory Committee Act does not apply when:
- government agencies seek input and suggestions from the general public on various issues.
To find out if a group comes under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, contact the sponsoring agency's committee management officer, or the GSA committee management secretariat at email@example.com.
Resource: Federal Advisory Committee Act
Monitor What You Control
As a social media user, you're responsible for continually checking the pages you own. The person (or designee) who has responsibility for approving the page, should ensure the information is accurate, timely, relevant and complete; and does not adversely affect the execution of GSA's or the federal government's missions and responsibilities.