10 Tips for Federal Employees on the Personal Use of Social Media
10 TIPS FOR FEDERAL EMPLOYEES ON THE PERSONAL USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Federal Communicators Network, October 2016
DISCLAIMER - PLEASE READ: This “cheat sheet” is meant to help clarify some issues that federal employees may not be
aware of, or that may be confusing. It is not meant to replace a thorough review of law, policy, and official guidance or
to restrict or alter your rights and responsibilities in any way. When in doubt, please do not use this as a substitute for
obtaining reliable direction from an official source. This document, like all FCN documents, is unofficial in nature.
1. First Amendment Rights: Your personal social media profiles are your own, and for the most part, the federal
government does not intend to control online activities that are purely personal (an example of an exception is the
Hatch Act, which contains certain limits on employee free speech). Also, the same principles apply whether your
speech occurs over social media or in more traditional ways, e.g. publishing a letter to the editor of a newspaper.
2. Special Restrictions: Find out from your agency whether there are any special restrictions on your social media
activity beyond the general rules that apply to all federal employees. For example, this might apply if you work for a
law enforcement agency.
3. If You Are Aware of Misconduct: Reporting fraud, waste and abuse to the appropriate authorities is lawful, but
leaking classified or otherwise confidential information over the internet is not.
4. Disclaimer: When people know that you work for the government, they are prone to assuming that you speak for
the government, even when you’re not. So in discussing your personal views, it helps to be upfront about the fact
that you are not speaking in an official capacity. Example: “The content of this communication is entirely my own and
does not reflect the opinions of or endorsement by any federal agency or the government as a whole.”
5. Opinions About Your Agency: You are entitled to discuss, analyze or disagree with your agency about publicly
available information. That said, your agency may require you to tell them if you do so. Check your public
affairs/public communications policy for more information, and do not hesitate to ask your Office of Public Affairs
and/or your ethics officer for guidance.
6. No “Impersonation”: While you are free to describe your interests, experiences and ideas on unofficial time, do not
use unofficial time or personal social media accounts to act as an official representative of your agency without
7. Political Activity: Regarding personal political activity, refer to the Hatch Act. (The text is readily available online,
along with an extensive set of frequently asked questions.)
8. No Right to Privacy on Work Devices: Read and follow your agency’s policies on information technology use. Some
allow you to use your work computer to access your personal accounts on a limited basis. If you do use your work
device, whether desktop computer or mobile phone, to access personal accounts, understand that your activity may
be monitored by the agency.
9. Keep Personal Devices Personal: Don’t use your personal devices or accounts for agency activity, because then it is
subject to legal discovery (including FOIA) in the event of litigation. Also, use “smart” passwords (guidance on these
is readily available online), and change them frequently.
10. Targeting by Foreign Spies: Be careful who you “friend” online. Foreign intelligence agents are known to target
federal employees specifically, for a variety of reasons.
ABOUT THIS INITIATIVE: In August 2016, the Federal Communicators Network published a research paper
demonstrating the urgent need for consistent interagency communication standards. This “cheat sheet” is our first
attempt at providing information of a general nature on a federal communication topic of interest. Future issues will
address training , career laddering, definitions of common terms, and more. To access the research paper visit
http://www.slideshare.net/FCN-Presentations. To provide feedback or get involved, email