Social Media and the Hatch Act: How To Make Sure your Tweets Don’t Cost You Your Job
Debate season is in full swing as the races for the Republican and Democratic nominees for the 2016 presidential election begin to kick into high gear.
As we approach the presidential election in November, it is important for all federal employees to review the guidelines governing their expression of political support. The governing law, as all federal employees should know, is the Hatch Act. First passed in 1939, the Hatch Act regulates what federal employees can share or promote regarding political campaigns. The act is frequently updated, and the latest revisions in 2014 outlined how federal employees can display their political preferences on social media. While most federal employees are familiar with Hatch Act provisions in their everyday interactions, the explosion in social media over the last decade and its removed quality leads some employees to forget that the Hatch Act applies on social media as well.
Social media rules include:
- Federal employees may not participate in any political activity on social media while on duty.
- Federal employees may have a political candidate or party’s logo as their profile or cover picture on social media profiles, but these pictures will accompany any action by the user. That means user cannot, while on duty or on the job, “tweet,” retweet,” or share any posts, as this will imply an endorsement of the group/candidate in the photo, even if the action itself is apolitical.
- Federal employees may not refer to their official positions at any time while participating in political activity on Facebook.
- Federal employees cannot solicit political contributions at any time. This means no “sharing” or “tweeting” of links asking for donations: in fact, even “liking” these links is impermissible.
While there are many bright-line rules, some of the Hatch Act guidelines on social media and political participation may be tough to decipher. That is why, for federal employees, the wisest course of action may be to abstain from all political activity on social media accounts. In many ways, it is not worth the risk of running afoul of Hatch Act regulations.
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