Political activities restricted on social media for federal workers

Fort McCoy Public Affairs Office
Story by Scott Sturkol

Date: 03.26.2020
Posted: 03.26.2020 16:35
News ID: 365984
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The U.S. Office of Special Council (OSC) and the Department of Defense (DOD) Public Affairs Office have published guidance that addresses issues raised by conducting political activities on social media sites (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Tumblr, LinkedIn, etc.) by Soldiers and civilian employees.

With the election season currently upon us, now is a good time for all federal government employees to review the restrictions placed on political activities.

Some of the more common restrictions on political activities prohibit civilian employees and service members from:

· running for partisan political offices.

· using their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election.

· soliciting or receiving political contributions.

· engaging in political activities while on duty or wearing an official uniform or displaying official insignias identifying the office or position of the DOD employee.

· engaging in political activities while using government-owned or -leased vehicles or resources.

· wearing political buttons on duty.

Certain limited political activities are permissible. Civilian employees and service member may:

· register, vote, and express personal opinions.

· encourage others to exercise their voting rights.

· join political clubs and attend political meetings and rallies as a spectator when not in uniform.

· make monetary contributions to political organizations.

· sign petitions for specific legislative actions.

· write letters to the editor expressing personal views.

· display bumper stickers on private vehicles, provided that the bumper stickers are consistent with good order and discipline on the installation.

The above-listed activities are not a complete list of prohibited or allowed political activities. Refer to DOD Directive 1344.10 or the legal office for complete guidance.

The guidance issued by OSC and DOD concerning social media and political activities is based on the following basic concepts. Be aware that prohibitions placed on active-duty service members are stricter than those imposed on civilian employees in some instances.

While federal employees are not prohibited from expressing their opinions concerning partisan political candidates and political parties, they are prohibited from advocating for or against a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan public office through a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media platform while they are on duty or in the federal workplace. However, doing so while off duty and away from the federal workplace is permissible.

Federal employees are prohibited from using their official authority or influence to affect the result of an election.

Therefore, although employees may advocate for or against political parties, partisan political groups, or candidates for partisan public office while off duty and away from the federal workplace, they may not refer to their official titles or positions with the government while engaged in such efforts. The inclusion of a federal employee’s official title or position on one’s social media profile, without more, is not considered an improper use of official authority.

Federal employees are prohibited from soliciting, accepting, or receiving political contributions at any time. At no time should they suggest or ask anyone to make contributions to a political party, partisan political candidate, or partisan political group. Further, they should not provide links to the contribution page of any of those entities’ websites.
Employees are not responsible for the acts of a third party, even if the third party’s actions appear on their social media page. However, the federal employee should not like, share, or retweet, or respond in any way that might encourage other readers to donate.

Although federal employees may never use official authority or influence to affect the result of an election, federal employees who are “friends” with their subordinate employees or have “followers” who are subordinate employees may advocate for or against a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office, provided the supervisor’s statements are directed at all of his/her Facebook friends or Twitter followers.

Such statements may not be specifically directed toward subordinate employees, or to a subset of friends that includes subordinates, e.g., by sending a direct message to a subordinate employee, posting a partisan political comment on a subordinate employee’s Facebook wall, or sending a tweet directed at the subordinate employee.

The following guidance from DOD applies specifically to active-duty service members. Service members may generally express their own personal views on public issues or political candidates via social media platforms much the same as they would be permitted to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper. However, if the social media site/post identifies the member as on active duty (or if the member is otherwise reasonably identifiable as an active-duty member), then the entry must clearly and prominently state that the views expressed are those of the individual only and not those of the DOD.

An active-duty member may not post or make direct links to a political party, partisan political candidate, campaign, group, or cause because such activity is the equivalent of distributing literature on behalf of those entities or individuals, which is prohibited. Moreover, an active-duty member may not post or comment on the Facebook pages or “tweet” at the Twitter accounts of a political party, or partisan political candidate, campaign, group, or cause, as such activity would be engaging in partisan political activity, which is also prohibited.

An active-duty member may become a “friend” of, or “like,” the Facebook page, or “follow” the Twitter account of a political party or partisan candidate, campaign, group, or cause.

However, they must refrain from suggesting that others do the same or forwarding an invitation or solicitation from such entities to others.

If you have any questions about which political activities are prohibited or permissible, contact the Fort McCoy Legal Office at 608-388-2165 for further guidance.

(Article prepared by the Fort McCoy Legal Office.)