Sunday, April 23, 2017

Should Government Tweeps Separate the Personal from the Professional?

This is something I wrote years ago, and meant to finish, but never did:

The explosion of Twitter presents an underappreciated dilemma for federal government employees who work in new media: Should you include your workplace in your Twitter bio?

In one corner is the work-is-life crowd. As Scott Horvath, of the U.S. Geological Survey, explains (via Twitter, naturally), new media "attracts limelighters,” and “everywhere access encourages personal-professional integration.” Army spokeswoman Lindy Kyzer concurs: “A lot of my online identity is merged professional/personal.” As such, it's folly to try to  separate the two.

In another corner is the work-is-work crowd. For instance, to learn more about @cbdawson, you'd need to Google "Cian Dawson," locate his LinkedIn profile, and realize that the San Francisco hydrogeologist on Twitter is the same one who works for the U.S. Geological Survey on LinkedIn. Dawson explains that he uses Twitter "solely as a private citizen, not a federal employee. I don't post [my workplace] to avoid confusion about that.”

By the same token, Andrew Wilson, of HHS, and Jeffrey Levy, of the EPA, both use Twitter exclusively for work (and thus explicitly cite their day jobs in their bios). Wilson explains that he “wants to be transparent about who I am”; Levy says he Tweets “to discuss social media in government (especially the EPA).” Suzanne Ackerman, also of the EPA, concurs: "My Twitter account is for professional use at EPA only."

At the moment, it appears that no rules or regulations govern the use of Twitter by federal employees. While some feds go out of their way to disclose their workplace, others maintain a church-state separation between their personal and professional lives.

This chaos is a problem waiting to happen. For instance, what happens when the FDA's Facebook guy starts proseclutizing for Jews for Jesus? Or the editor of the FBI's blog betrays his feelings about black people? Or the Webmaster at the Agriculture Department insists that Obama was never born in the United States and therefore is constitutionally barred from the presidency?

Any solution must recognize that a paycheck does not bar an employee from expressing his opinions when he's off the clock about issues unrelated to work. Yet whereas five years ago, you could vent in your local watering hole, today Twitter places a global microphone beside your whiskey glass.

At what is a fed allowed to take off the badge hanging literally around his neck?

TK draws a line between Twitter and blogging (both of which he uses for work) and Facebook (which is personal).

This is risky.

Others may prefer to follow the Tweets blazed by Brian Brandt, of the GSA, who employs the "mom" test: "It's ok to mix personal/work in social media, if it's socially responsible (ask can "mom" read my post)."

Erick Erickson, the editor of the RedState blog, makes this point: "I am more and more mindful—and I used to be oblivious to the fact—that when I endorse a candidate or support a position, the implication is that RedState does too. In fact, it is why I expressly refuse to endorse a lot of things I’m asked to endorse. I know people don’t want my endorsement so much as they want the implication of RedState’s endorsement. . . . David Keene and Grover Norquist are, whether they like it or not, intrinsically linked to their respective organizations [the American Conservative Union and Americans for Tax Reform]. If they come out in support of a particular position, people believe that their organizations support that position too."

* In this view, as Todd Zeigler, of the Bivings Group, has argued, "If you work for a presidential campaign in this day and age, you are essentially a public figure. Everything you write/say/do is going to be combed over by bloggers/Wonkette/whoever, whether you are the campaign manager or a low level staffer. This should be the expectation of people going in at this point. Every tweet could be on the front page of the New York Times."

* In one camp are those who agree with the actions of the presidential campaign of John McCain, which suspended a staffer for Tweeting a video, from a personal account, which attacked Obama. Perhaps in reaction to this, Todd Herman, the new media director of the Republican National Committee, declares in his Twitter bio: “These are my personal rants, musings and asides—they are not statements on behalf of my employer. Cool?”

Companies today are wrestling with how their employees should separate their personal from their professional identities online. The question is so tough because the Internet has so blurred the lines—especially if your job involves digital communications.

While we can all agree that what you do on your own behalf doesn’t represent company policy, it nonetheless reflects on your employer. At the extreme, do you want someone working for you who, when the clock strikes six, begins blogging in advocacy of converting Muslims to Christianity? At the less extreme, do you want someone working for you who tweets about how horrible a client’s hometown city is?

Increasingly, a standard disclosure isn’t enough (even this one, from the RNC’s Todd Herman: “These are my personal rants, musings and asides—they are not statements on behalf of my employer. Cool?”). The new reality—brought on by Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter—is that when you hire someone, you’re not just hiring her for a day job. You’re hiring her reputation.

Embracing this reality with gusto, the PR agency, New Media Strategies, is taking transparency to new heights. Its Twitter Directory publishes not only the professional but also the personal tweets—and pics—of all its employees. We “also have great sorting features based on name, username, followers and lists,” adds CEO, Pete Synder.

To wit, NMS is unflinchingly declaring, This is who we are. Not from 9-5, but 24/7.

What’s more, transparency fosters accountability. As Mary Katherine Ham has observed, “I make a conscious decision to broadcast my life every day, and I accept the consequences. In a way it’s a quintessentially conservative formula: The extent to which you take personal responsibility for your actions dictates the risks and benefits of your online existence.”

Name Twitter Handle Workplace Twitter Bio Updates Protected?
Andrew Wilson AndrewPWilson HHS Member of HHS Social Media Team No
Bev Godwin BevUSA White House Public Servant. New Media @ The White House Yes
Casey Coleman CaseyColeman GSA Chief Information Officer, General Services Administration No
Jeffrey Levy LevyJ413 EPA EPA Web Manager, Gov't 2.0er, Federal Web Managers Council, Social Media Subcouncil Co-Chair No
Leslie Benito LesBenito DoD Web Guy for DoD No
Jack Holt Jack_Holt DoD Senior Strategist for Emerging Media DoD/DMA No
Suzanne Ackerman Suzack777 EPA EPA Web team, social media No
Gwynne Kostin gwynnek DHS Curious, irreverent geekette, working at intersection of tech and people, loves her maddenboyz, now in dot-gov No
Amanda Eamich amandare USDA Bio USDA Director of New Media. (@USDAFoodSafety) i live, learn, work, eat, check blackberry, repeat. No
AScott Horvath ScottHorvath USGS Web developer and podcaster. Interests in Government and social media, the power of many, converting tech-challenged to tech-hopefuls No