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Federal agency blogging, ethics and branding

Social media is all the rage among federal communicators today - all of
us are talking about how to implement it. And one of the most mainstream
elements of social media in the federal government so far is blogging.
Here are some thoughts on blogging ethics and the connection to
government branding.

That the guardians of taxpayer money are speaking directly to citizens
is a good thing. But the rise of social media technology like blogs
brings with it a host of ethical questions and issues that have to be
dealt with. A key example is representation. Two common sense components
here--and there may be further legal/ethical requirements as well
(obviously this is not formal advice!)

1. When an agency executive writes a blog on the agency's official
blogsite, we the public assume that they are speaking on behalf of the
agency. Yet the blog medium is inherently a reflection of one's personal
thoughts. There needs to be a disclaimer on the site distinguishing
between the two.

2. This one is well known -- when an agency employee has their own blog
site, there needs to be a disclaimer stating that his/her views are
independent. In general anytime an agency employee publishes something
under their own name (not as a representative of he agency) they need to
clarify this.

3. In an anonymous web environment (like a message board where the
username is not a real name) it seems ethical to me to say, "I work for
x agency, and while I don't speak for them, here's a comment." However,
there may be agency concerns here about non-representative employees
commenting in public about agency matters - further clarification is
needed here. **And obviously nobody should ever reveal law enforcement
sensitive information, anonymous or not.**

4. In my view, while everyone has a right to express their opinions
freely, the fact of the matter is that the person is an embodiment of
the government for as long as they work there, and the site should not
contain anything that would embarrass or disgrace the agency.

- and you as a US government employee have an obligation not to shame

This is a general rule of thumb.

So for example anything that would tarnish or undermine the agency's
dignity (e.g. vacation party photos) should be kept off of the blog
especially if there is any indication made that the blogger works for
the government. And remember someone can google you and find out you are
a fed even if that's not on the blog. This is just common sense.

General disagreements over agency policy, I believe, should be handled
through internal channels or private correspondence with elected
officials rather than aired publicly. If the potential consequences of
the disagreement are severe and the above won't cut it, obviously you
should CONSULT AN AUTHORITY about what to do.

Now if you believe your agency is doing something wrong - e.g. fraud,
waste, abuse, gross mismanagement, etc. - you also obviously have the
right and the duty to report it through all proper channels and legal
advice is definitely warranted.