The Hatch Act of 1939, officially An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, is the official guidance for civil servants of the executive branch on engaging in partisan political activity. More than seventy years after it was enacted, the blurred lines between professional and private lives, compounded by the development of social media, complicates the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable political activity for government employees.
Mark Malseed, investigative journalist, author of The Google Story, and recently co-founder of OhMyGov.com – a news and networking portal for government – spoke with Chris Dorobek of the DorobekINSIDER regarding the Hatch Act and its implications for social media use. As he told Dorobek, “Social media allows a lot more ways to express ourselves,” but there are serious risks for government employees to use social media for partisan political activities.
Last month Malseed published “Social Media Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Government Career: OhMyGov’s INFOGRAPHIC on Facebook, Twitter and the Hatch Act”, a useful tool for government employees who are unsure about the lines for social media use. As he told Dorobek, there are some pretty clear lines, especially regarding soliciting campaign contributions, and using social media to publicize fundraising events. Further, employees should always be cognizant that personal social media activity is typically inappropriate in the workplace.
Malseed also addressed the distinction in restrictions for less restricted and further restricted employees. While everyone is governed by the Hatch Act, “Certain agencies, those particularly dealing with law enforcement, intelligence, folks that are in the Senior Executive Service, and a few others that are spelled out by the office of special council – because of the nature of their jobs, they carry a deeper level of restriction in order to protect themselves and protect the people they work for.”
OhMyGov.com has also created an infographic to help employees distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable activity. There were a few areas that surprised even Malseed, that government employees should definitely be aware of. For instance, while sharing news stories is considered acceptable behavior, putting your own commentary before the post can be considered political behavior. As a guiding principle, keep in mind that “You cannot use your position as a government employee, at an level, to bolster your argument.”
This is incredibly timely advice, with the Vice Presidential Debate this evening, and two more Presidential Debates in the next few weeks. “If you [share, retweet, like, or comment on social media], my advice would be, if you’re at all political, if you get swept up in the debates and are putting tweets out from your own account or sharing things on Facebook, do yourself a favor: check the infographic, check the office of special council website, find out which category you fall into as an employee and if you’re in that further restricted be reallycareful.”