SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. – If you’ve worked with the federal government for some time, you may be familiar with many of the guidelines involving your participation in political activities. For example, as a military service member or Department of Defense civilian employee, you can display a political candidate’s bumper sticker on your personal car, but not on your cube wall.
When it comes to social media, though, do you know what the rules are? Here’s a quick quiz to test your knowledge.
Which of the following are you, as an active duty service member, reservist, or government civilian allowed to do in support of your favored political party, candidate or group?
1) Express your opinion of a candidate or issue via Twitter.
Yes, as long as you’re not on duty or in a federal workplace. However, you may not refer to your official title or position with the government while engaged in expressing your opinion. You may not target particular “friends” or “followers” who are your subordinate employees. The message must be directed to all of your “friends” or “followers.”
Additionally, for military personnel, if your profile makes your readily identifiable as an active duty service member, the entry must clearly and prominently state that the views you express are yours only and not those of the Department of Defense (or Department of Homeland Security or Coast Guard, as appropriate).
2) “Follow” a political candidate’s Twitter feed.
Yes, but not on duty hours or while in a federal workplace.
3) Post a comment on a political candidate’s Facebook page or “retweet” posts from the candidate.
“Yes” for “less restricted employees” only. “No” for active duty and “further restricted employees.*”
4) Link to a political party’s contribution page on Facebook.
5) “Like” a link to the contribution page of a political party your friend posted on your Facebook wall.
No. You don’t have to remove the post, but you may not respond in any way that would encourage other readers to donate.
The latest Secretary of Defense memo on political activities, “Civilian and Military Personnel Participation in Political Activities,” was released in June. For more information, it points service members to the DOD Directive 1344.10, “Guidance for Military Personnel” and the “Public Affairs Guidance for Political Campaigns and Elections,” which contains language specific to social media.
The Hatch Act (the Hatch Act does not apply to military members) and “Social Media and the Hatch Act” govern civilian employee’s participation in political activities. Find a link to these resources here under "Political Activities".
“Military personnel and government civilians are encouraged to vote and support a candidate in a personal capacity,” said Fritz Mihelcic, ethics counselor, USTRANSCOM judge advocate. “You just don’t want to say, write or do anything that gives someone the impression of approval or endorsement of a political party, candidate or group by DOD or the U.S. military.”
Check out the documents linked above for more guidance on attendance at political events, volunteering for a candidate, participation in political groups, and more. Reach out to TCJA if you have any questions.
Mihelcic summarizes, “Just remember that any activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate or group while on duty, in uniform or at a federal workplace is prohibited. And, in addition, military service members and federal employees can’t solicit, accept or receive political contributions at any time.”
*Further Restricted Employees include, but are not limited to, employees from certain agencies or their components such as the Central Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Secret Service, or certain positions such as Senior Executive Service.
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