Chapter 5. Your Responsibilities
- Get Approval and Notify the Office of Communications and Marketing
- Minimize Your Risk
- Nonpublic Information
- About Endorsements of Products, Services, or Enterprises
- Section 508 Standards (Accessibility)
- Practice Proper Records Management
- Know the Laws for Information Collection
- Plain Language
- Meet Information Quality Standards
- Ensure Meaningful Access by People with Limited English Proficiency
- Protect Intellectual Property
- Privacy Considerations
- Provide Data in a Usable Format
- Adhere to Lobbying Rules
- Avoid Political Activity (Hatch Act)
- Know When the Federal Advisory Committee Act Applies
- Monitor What you Control
After you have your supervisor's approval, you must get approval from whomever in your organization has executive oversight or responsibility for the subject matter that will be the main focus of your social media effort. Inform GSA’s Office of Communications and Marketing at email@example.com, so that the social media team can maintain an updated list of GSA’s social media presences.
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. It's your responsibility to read and apply GSA’s IT Rules of Behavior 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, Freedom of Information Act, National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 and Executive Order 13526 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, the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch says you shouldn't use nonpublic information to further your private interest or anyone else's, 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 the Freedom of Information Act;
- source selection information on contracts or grants; and
- confidential business information as defined by federal law.
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 for personal use. 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. These standards are designed to make online information and services fully available to the 54 million Americans who have disabilities. The Federal Acquisition Regulation requires agencies to modify acquisition planning procedures to ensure the Section 508 standards are properly considered and to include the standards in requirements documents. OMB reminds agencies to disseminate information to the public on a timely and equitable basis. Agencies using nonfederal 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 your GSA Section 508 coordinator if you have questions or concerns.
When you use electronic media, whether it's a blog, a website, a wiki, 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 offers resources and guidance to agencies to ensure proper records management. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for questions about records management at GSA. If you're a GSA employee, you can also take records management training designed by NARA on GSA’s Online University.
- NARA Bulletin 2011-02, Guidance on Managing Records in Web 2.0/Social Media Platforms
- 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
- GSA’s Online University (available only to those with access to the GSA intranet)
Agencies must, when practical, 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 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 10 or more participants, regardless of the format. 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 that can be useful for social media-related surveys and questionnaires. Contact GSA’s Privacy Act officer to learn more. Consider using the fast-track process for your data collection activities when:
- The data collection is focused on improving existing or future services, products or communication materials;
- The data collection is voluntary;
- A statistical rigor is not required;
- The burden on participants is not high; and
- Public dissemination of results is not intended.
- Government Paperwork Elimination Act
- Paperwork Reduction Act
- 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
- Fast-Track Process
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 for 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.
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 (such as the possibility of errors, degree of reliability, and validity); and taking reasonable steps to remove the limitations inherent in the product or information. Agency management should ensure its position, rather than one person’s opinion, is reflected in all communications.
Resource: Information Quality Act, Public Law 106-554.
Executive Order 13166 requires that people with limited English proficiency have meaningful access to an agency's federally conducted programs and activities to prevent national origin discrimination. The use of social media technologies to communicate and collaborate with the public 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. Based on this four-factor analysis, an organization must develop and implement a limited English proficiency plan, if necessary.
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 and copyright laws when implementing social media technologies. While the federal government typically provides public data that are not considered copyrightable intellectual property, social media technologies that allow public contribution of content may create challenges about the protection of intellectual property contributed by visitors. Agencies must post clear disclaimers detailing the copyrights that nongovernment contributors may retain. Government content can sometimes belong to the public domain and be free from copyright, but this is not always true, especially where images and trademarked names or logos are concerned. Thus, this content 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 can make it easy to violate another's rights, so you need to ensure you don't infringe on another's protected rights. Also, you should post clear disclaimers detailing liability if a member of the public's post violates another's intellectual property or copyright. Note that the GSA star mark is registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the GSA seal is protected by statute. Contact the Office of General Counsel if you have specific questions about this.
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
- GSA’s Office of General Counsel
- Guidance on Using GSA’s Branding Images
The government requires public-facing websites to conduct privacy impact assessments if they collect personally identifiable information. 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 personally identifiable information unless you're authorized to do so in that medium.
Resource: GSA’s Privacy Program
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 must provide most data in an open, industry-standard format that allows you to use data to meet your 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, which helps develop applications and also improve mobile technologies.
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.
Even though social media are widely used in politics, the general rules that apply to government communications haven’t changed. Avoid any topics that may violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits you from being politically active while on duty, at work, 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, you may not use your official title while participating in political activity, use your authority to coerce any person to participate in political activity, or solicit or receive political contributions. The same rules apply to using social media to engage in political activity while you're on duty.
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, gather opinions about a variety of issues and 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
As a social media user, you're responsible for continually checking the sites you manage. 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. Your responsibilities include inactivating the page if the owner leaves the agency and notifying the Office of the Chief Information Officer that the page has been transferred to someone else. If you have questions, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.