Guidance on Private Account Social Media Use for Individuals at NIH

Social media can be a great way of sharing your opinions and life events with friends and family. The opportunity to find, share, and comment on information, data, and imagery is unprecedented. But it is important to recognize that the use of social media can also present certain risks. As a member of the NIH Community, you have a special responsibility to uphold the public trust. We earn public trust from our expertise and our conscious fair treatment for all. We have responsibilities that are different from those who work in other places. This guidance has been created to assist you in making responsible decisions when navigating these platforms.

This document is relevant for all staff (full time employees, part-time employees, contractors, fellows, volunteers) and is intended to encompass the wide range of social media tools current and emerging.

Avoiding Pitfalls. NIH wants to ensure that all members of its staff are protected from the potential pitfalls of this medium, and ensure a clear understanding of the policies and procedures governing it that are relevant to people who work for the public.

Knowing the Rules. The United States Office of Government Ethics released its Standards of Conduct as Applied to Personal Social Media Use in 2015, and it lays out a number of guiding principles for all Federal staff.

Additional guidance was provided related to elections this year:

Clarifying your Role. One of the best things you can do to safeguard yourself, as well as NIH, is to add a disclaimer to all of your social media accounts. Examples can include simple statements, such as “All views/posts are my own” as part of your account’s personal/biography section. This is the same location where it is permissible to identify your affiliation with NIH. But be aware that a violation of policy could occur if the NIH name or logo is prominently featured. Also, remember the rule of three. In identifying yourself as from NIH it should be with at least two other “facts” in your profile. 

In that same spirit, do not use your .gov address to identify yourself on social media sites. Use a personal email account to avoid giving the appearance of the Federal footprint or any inference of government policy or opinion.

And, of course, don’t divulge classified or sensitive materials, photos, or video.

Notes: 

  • The following topics are “protected”, which means employees can talk about them on social media — their own Whistleblower complaints, their own EEO complaints, and religious expression.
  • Summer interns, postbacs, predoctoral students, postdoctoral fellows fellows appointed at IRTAs, VFs or SVs should consult their training office or the OITE for additional guidance.

Enjoy lively discussions, but remember the rules of engagement.

This page last reviewed on September 21, 2016