Agency tells employees not to mix professional, personal social media

EPA's interim social media policy encourages employees to use the emerging technology responsibly

Environmental Protection Agency officials have issued interim policies on how the agency's employees should use social media to interact with members of the public in a memo published on the Internet.

The policy's guidance includes not making anonymous comments, stating facts rather than opinions and protecting nonpublic information.

The memo, dated Jan. 26, is from Linda Travers, principal deputy assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Environmental Information, and Seth Oster, associate administrator of the agency's Office of Public Affairs.

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Wikipedia provide good opportunities for EPA to engage with the public, according to the memo.

“It benefits environmental protection to both create new social media tools and, where appropriate, participate in existing tools by adding the agency’s official perspective or correcting errors,” the memo states. “We encourage you to take full advantage of these opportunities, but we also want to give you clear guidance, especially on how employees represent EPA online in their official capacities.”

When employees participate on EPA’s behalf in social media as part of their official duties, they should exercise the same decorum and professionalism that they would if they were speaking for the agency at a conference or public meeting, the memo states.

It also directs employees to obtain a supervisor's approval before representing EPA online and said they must not post opinions on behalf of EPA in areas outside their assigned duties.

The interim guidance does not apply to employees’ online activities while not on official duty. However, the officials acknowledged that the lines between personal and professional can sometimes get blurred in online social networks.

“It is important that you remember that you are participating in your official capacity and not in your personal capacity,” the memo states. “Make sure that your online activities and online content associated with you while you are officially representing EPA are consistent with your job responsibilities at EPA. If you see online errors about EPA that are not in your area of expertise or you are not authorized to represent EPA in regard to the subject matter, then pass them on to someone who is an expert in the area or who is authorized to represent EPA in regard to that issue.”

Officials are still developing a final social media policy, according to the memo.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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