Hatch Act Information Most frequently asked questions:
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the agency responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act, recently issued clarifying guidance on popular social media questions. To ensure that your knowledge is up-to-date, I encourage you to review the frequently asked questions and answers below (prepared by designated ethics officials).
1. Q: When off duty, may I “like,” “comment” or “tweet” about a political party or partisan group or candidate on Facebook or Twitter?
A: YES, provided you are not in the workplace, in a government building or vehicle, using USG equipment (e.g., computers, phones, Internet connectivity) or wearing an official badge or uniform.
2. Q: Based on OSC’s guidance, I know that I can list my official title/position and political party affiliation in my social media profiles. May I also include my official title/position in the text of my “posts,” “tweets,” and similar social media messages about political parties and partisan candidates or groups?
A: NO. Simply identifying your political party affiliation on a social media profile, which also contains your official title or position, without more, is not improper. However, including your official title or position in the text of a partisan message would be a Hatch Act violation, as well as a violation of the Standards of Ethical Conduct (misuse of position).
3. Q: I received a link via Facebook to the contribution page of the candidate of my choice for an upcoming partisan election. My mother is having trouble finding the link on the Internet. May I simply forward the link to her from my personal computer, as long as I am not on duty or on government property?
A: NO. You may not, at any time or in any place, ask or suggest that anyone make political contributions. Therefore, you may not provide links to the political contribution page of any political party, partisan group or candidate, or “like,” “share,” or “retweet” a solicitation from one of those entities, including an invitation to a political fundraising event. You may, however, accept an invitation to a political fundraising event received via Facebook or Twitter, provided you do not do so on duty, on government property, in a government vehicle, using government equipment or while wearing an official badge or uniform.
4. Q: I want to support my favorite partisan candidate. May I “like,” “post” or “link” to the candidate’s campaign Facebook page or other campaign materials? May I “share” or “retweet” posts or other information from the candidate’s social media sites?
A: YES, if you are a less restricted employee. NO, if you are a further restricted employee (i.e., career SES, ALJ, or AAJ). The Hatch Act prohibits further restricted employees from taking an active part in partisan political management or partisan political campaigns. Thus, further restricted employees may not: (1) post or link to campaign or other partisan material of a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race, (2) “share” these entities’ Facebook pages or their content, or (3) “retweet” posts from these entities’ Twitter accounts.
5. Q: I am a less restricted employee. May I share my opinions about a political party or a partisan group or candidate (e.g., post, “like,” “share,” “tweet” or “retweet”) on Facebook or Twitter, if I am “friends” with or have “followers” who are subordinate employees?
A: YES. All employees may share their opinions subject to the following limitations: your statements about a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race are sent to all of your Facebook friends or Twitter followers and are not directed at your subordinate employees. In addition to these limitations, further restricted employees may not post, link, share or retweet partisan material of a campaign or candidate.
6. Q: May I use a Facebook or Twitter account in my official capacity to engage in political activity?
7. Q: May I use an alias to “friend,” “like,” or “follow” the social media page of a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race?
A. YES, but you remain subject to the Hatch Act even when acting under an alias.
8. Q: What should I do if an individual posts or “tweets” a message soliciting political contributions to a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race, or links to the political contribution page for such entities, on my social media page?
A: You are not responsible for the statements of third parties, even when they appear on your social media page, and you need not take any action. However, you may not “like,” “share,” or “retweet” the solicitation or respond in any way to the solicitation that would tend to encourage other readers to contribute.
9. Q: May I display a political party or partisan campaign logo or candidate photograph as my profile picture on Facebook or Twitter?
A: YES. This display, usually featured at the top of one’s social media profile, without more, is not improper. However, because a profile picture accompanies most actions on social media, employees who have a political party, partisan campaign logo or candidate photograph as a profile picture may not, while on duty or in the workplace, post, “share,” “tweet,” or “retweet” anything on Facebook or Twitter. Each such action would show your support for a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race. Further, while on duty or in the workplace, employees may not show or display a Facebook or Twitter profile picture, if it contains a political party, partisan campaign logo or candidate photograph.
10. Q: While reading the New York Times online during my lunch break, I ran across a very complimentary article about my favorite partisan candidate. May I read the article at my desk? May I use my government computer to forward a link to the article to my personal email account?
A: Yes. You may read the article during nonwork time and forward the article or the link to your personal email account, keeping in mind USG’s Limited Use Policy, which restricts sending large computer, video or sound files. Merely reading an article about politics or political candidates or forwarding the article to your personal email account while at work, without more (e.g., you cannot forward the link or article to anyone else’s email), does not violate the Hatch Act.