Frequently Asked Questions about California's Social Media Policy

May 1, 2014

Social Media provides an interesting and rewarding forum to share your life and opinions with family, friends, and the public at large. However, where your work and personal life intersect, the use of Social Media can present increased risks and responsibilities. To assist you in making responsible decisions about your personal use of Social Media, below are answers to the following frequently asked questions.

Q: What is Social Media?
A: Social Media generally refers to forms of electronic communication such as social networking sites, your own or someone else’s weblog or blog, web bulletin boards, news site comment sections, photograph sharing sites, or chat rooms through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other media content such as photos or videos. Examples of Social Media websites include Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Blogger, or YouTube.
 
Q: Is there a Statewide Social Media policy?
A:

Yes, there is a Statewide Social Media policy applicable to all Executive Branch agencies and departments.  It is set forth in Information Technology Letter 10-02 and the related Social Media Standard SIMM 66B. IT Policy Letter 10-02 can be found at http://www.cio.ca.gov/Government/IT_Policy/pdf/ITPL_10-02_Social_Media.pdf. The Social Media Standard can be found at http://www.cio.ca.gov/Government/IT_Policy/pdf/SIMM_66B.pdf.

 
Q: Does the Statewide Social Media policy ban Social Media sites for state agencies?
A: No, the policy encourages departments to consider using these powerful tools. It requires that department executives decide whether or not to use the tools, and what risks to consider if they move forward. In the past, decisions of whether or not to use the tools have been made at various levels in the department. The policy is the Executive Branch’s official position on the use of these tools, which many agencies are already using with great success.
 
Q: Does the Social Media policy require that state agencies must use social networking sites?
A: No. Again, the policy acknowledges that these are powerful tools for agencies to communicate with the public, but does not require their use. There are many examples of agencies using official department social media sites to reach their constituencies to bolster communication and transparency. These sites are generally operated by the public affairs or business office within the specific department.
 
Q: Is the policy a step toward shutting down access for state employees who want to use Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter at work?
A: No. In fact, many state employees currently do not have access to such sites. The policy is intended as a guide for state agencies to use as they utilize the tools to interface with the public. Access for state employees on state equipment during work hours is an issue that naturally arises from the popularity of social media sites. It is up to the department’s executive management to determine what staff should have access to social media sites, especially if the department is using sites to communicate with the public.
 
Q: Since the Governor uses Twitter in various ways, why are state employees not allowed to use Twitter and Facebook however they want?
A: It is up to individual departments to determine whether or not to allow state employees access to social media sites while at work. Where access is permitted, it must comply with the Statewide Social Media policy. Obviously, on their own time and use of personal equipment, state employees are free to participate like any other member of the public. State agencies must be responsible for their staff’s activities, including considering things like security, productivity, etc. Security and the misuse of state resources are serious issues.
 
Q: Can state employees post information on Social Media websites on behalf of the State?
A: State employees are not permitted to post comments on behalf of their employer on Social Media websites or in other on-line forums unless specifically authorized by an appropriate authority within their department. A state employee who is authorized to speak on behalf of an agency, department, or the state must identify him or herself by name, title, agency or department, contact information, and should only address those issues within the scope of the specific authorization. (See SIMM Section 66B, Section 4.0, USER REQUIREMENTS, numbers 5 and 6.)
 
Q: Can state employees post information on Social Media websites on their own behalf during their own non-work hours?
A: Yes, however state employees who post personal comments that are related to the workplace (or someone in it) should ensure that their postings do not represent, or appear to represent, the position of the State or any agency or department. In addition, when posting comments related to their workplace or about issues arising out of work, state employees should ensure that their postings are consistent with applicable agency and department policies, including Discrimination and Harassment Prevention, Workplace Violence Prevention, and Incompatible Activities policies. (See SIMM Section 66B, Section 4.0, USER REQUIREMENTS, numbers 4 and 7.)
 
Q: Can state employees communicate with each other about the terms and conditions of their employment through Social Media sites?
A: Yes. State employees engage in protected activity when they use Social Media to communicate with one another about work-related issues such as workload, staffing, employment conditions, and wages.
 
Q: What kind of information should not be posted on Social Media websites?
A: State employees should not post or release proprietary, confidential, or privileged state information, or private information about co-workers. Confidential information can include internal departmental reports, policies, procedures, materials that constitute intellectual property, attorney-client communications, or other internal records that may be exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act. (See SIMM Section 66B, Section 4.0, USER REQUIREMENTS, number 3.)
 
Q: What are examples of inappropriate postings that may violate employer policies, whether posted at work or on an employee’s own time?
A: Inappropriate postings may include racial epithets, discriminatory remarks, sexual or racial harassment with a nexus to the workplace, as well as threats of violence against co-workers. State employees should avoid using statements, photographs, video or audio that is malicious, obscene, threatening, intimidating or that might constitute harassment or bullying of co-workers. State employees should also avoid offensive posts meant to intentionally harm a co-worker’s reputation or posts that contribute to a hostile work environment on the basis of race, sex, disability, religion or other protected status. (See SIMM Section 66B, Section 4.0, USER REQUIREMENTS, number 4.)
 
Q: Can state employees be disciplined for their postings?
A: Yes, under certain circumstances, depending on the facts, certain postings may subject an employee to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
 
Q: Are there only certain social media sites that state agencies are allowed to use?
A: No, the policy is neutral on what sites to use. Due diligence is required to ensure security and appropriate use regardless of the site. Different sites may offer various security challenges which is why the Social Media Standard was developed to accompany the policy. Ultimately, it is up to the agency to consider the risks and decide what is right for them.