Social media, election season – what you need to know

Election season is here, and while we may all have opinions on who may be best suited to sit in the oval office, there are certain things that you need to be aware of to keep yourself out of trouble. The Hatch Act is a piece of legislation that limits certain political activities of employees of the executive branch, and as members of the Coast Guard workforce, it applies to all of us. With regards to social media specifically, there are some things that Coast Guard members and employees should be aware of.

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Hatch act and social media

Election season is here, and while we may all have opinions on who may be best suited to sit in the oval office, there are certain things that you need to be aware of to keep yourself out of trouble.

The Hatch Act is a piece of legislation that limits certain political activities of employees of the executive branch, and as members of the Coast Guard workforce, it applies to all of us. With regards to social media specifically, there are some things that Coast Guard members and employees should be aware of.

With respect to active duty service members, you may generally express your own personal views on public issues or political candidates via social media platforms in much the same way you would be permitted to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper.  However, if a social media site/post identifies you as a Coast Guard member on active duty (or if the member is otherwise reasonably identifiable as an active duty member), then the entry will clearly and prominently state that the views expressed are those of the individual only and not those of the Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Coast Guard).

An active duty member may not, however, engage in any partisan political activity. Further, an active duty member may not post or make direct links to a political party, partisan political candidate, campaign, group, or cause because such activity is the equivalent of distributing literature on behalf of those entities or individuals, which is prohibited by the Military Civil and Dependent Affairs manual.

An active duty member may become a friend of or like the Facebook page, or follow the Twitter account of a political party or partisan candidate, campaign, group, or cause. However, active duty members will refrain from engaging in activities with respect to those entities’ social media accounts that would constitute political activity. This would include, for example, suggesting that others like, friend, or follow the political party, partisan political candidate, campaign, group, or cause, or forwarding an invitation or solicitation from said entities to others.

In addition, use of government office equipment/services by military, civilian or contractor personnel to engage in political activity is considered an inappropriate use which could result in disciplinary/administrative or a personnel action.

More information about the do’s and do not’s of election season as a Coast Guard employee or member, please check out ALCOAST 003/16 or contact your local governmental affairs officer.

If you have specific questions, please leave them in the comments below and we will get back to you!

 

14 comments on “Social media, election season – what you need to know”

  1. Could you comment on what restrictions spouses have since they are not employees of the CG? Also please comment on any restrictions or guidelines for senior leader spouses. Thank you.

    1. Ms. DeNinno,

      Spouses who are not also CG employees are not limited in their
      political activity, because they are private, non-federal citizens. Their
      spouses are bound by the political activities restrictions outlined in
      ALCOAST 003/16, DoD Directive 1344.10, COMDTINST M1700.1, and the Hatch Act (if the CG employee spouse is not a military member). Thus, although they are not restricted in their political activity by any of these regulations, they should take care to make sure that they are not implying that their spouse or the CG generally favors a political candidate or issue, which would place their spouse in violation of the political activities restrictions. I hope this helps!

      Very Respectfully,
      LT Katie Braynard
      Coast Guard Public Affairs

  2. That’s some bad info right there. You can actually do a lot these things, just not in uniform, on a government computer or device, not on government time, and not saying you represent your branch of service. Whoever wrote this does not understand the rules.

    1. Thank you for the comment.

      With social media, identifying oneself as a member of the armed services is similar to appearing in uniform, so they would need to provide the disclaimer on any personal views. If there is anything specific you see wrong in the above section, please let us know and we will coordinate to get the appropriate information out to our members!

      Very Respectfully,
      LT Katie Braynard
      Coast Guard Public Affairs

    1. Mrs. DeNinno,

      Absolutely! We will get some information and share it here in the comment section for Coast Guard spouses. Thank you for bringing that up!

      Very Respectfully,
      LT Katie Braynard
      Coast Guard Public Affairs

    1. Craig,

      Thanks for bringing this up. We will get clarification and get back to you.

      Very Respectfully,
      LT Katie Braynard
      Coast Guard Public Affairs

    2. Craig,

      Paragraph 3 talks about generally expressing your personal views on social media. This means, you may post or tweet anything along the lines that says “I support _______”. However, Paragraph 4 provides additional details that prohibits active duty members (if they are clearly identified as such) to post links to political campaign literature, as it is seen as “distributing literature” and thus, prohibited. Does this help clarify? Feel free to email us at socialmedia@uscg.mil if you have more questions!

      Very Respectfully,
      LT Katie Braynard
      Coast Guard Public Affairs

  3. LT Braynard,

    Could you kindly comment on how this policy applies to members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, which has over 30,000 members.

    My understanding, according to the Auxiliary manual, is that the same rules apply, “when an Auxiliarist is assigned to duty, under orders, in uniform identified as an Auxiliarist, or performing any duty or function directly related to Auxiliary missions.”

    As a Member of the Auxiliary and Public Affairs Specialist, this is what I’m constantly advising other members who present themselves as members and in uniform.

    Very Respectfully,
    AUX Perry Joiner

    1. AUX Joiner,

      So sorry for the delay. I wanted to ensure I got the appropriate response from our legal office. There are no direct restrictions on the political activities of Auxiliarists by virtue of their status as a member of the CG auxiliary, because pursuant to 14 U.S.C. § 823a, Auxiliarists are not considered to be “federal employees” and are not subject to the provisions of law relating to federal employees, unless specifically outlined in the statute. 14 U.S.C. §823a contains a list of the limited circumstances in which Auxiliarists are treated as federal employees, and political activities is not one of the covered circumstances. Therefore, when it comes to political activities of an Auxiliarist, the Auxiliarist retains their private citizen status. It is important to note that much like spouses of federal employees (who have no direct restrictions on their political activities) Auxiliarists must exercise caution to not give the appearance of or imply official CG endorsement of a partisan political candidate or issue. Additionally, Auxiliarists remain bound by the provisions contained in the Auxiliary Manual, COMDTINST M16791.1G. Auxiliarists who have questions about their political activities as it relates to their status as a member of the Auxiliary or have questions about the policies contained in the Auxiliary Manual, should contact their District DSO-LP or CG-BSX-1 for further assistance.

      Very Respectfully,
      LT Katie Braynard
      Coast Guard Public Affairs

      1. LT Braynard,

        Thank you for your in depth and detailed response. My concern is really only with those whose social media presence clearly identifies them in uniform or in an official capacity and that could be construed as an official endorsement. I think it is covered in the Auxiliary Manual.

        From the PA Manual, COMDTINST M5728.2D, “The Coast Guard must not directly or indirectly endorse, or selectively benefit or favor, by participation or cooperation with any private individual, sect, fraternal organization, commercial venture, corporation (whether profit or nonprofit), political group, quasi-religious or ideological movement or be associated with the solicitation of votes in a political campaign.”

        Very Respectfully,
        AUX Perry Joiner
        Auxiliary Public Affairs Specialist

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