Social Networking Sites

Social networks connect people, often those who share the same interests and/or activities or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. Interagency and intergovernmental social networking sites can promote cooperation across government. Internal social networking sites can establish connections across traditionally stove-piped and geographically dispersed organizations. Public social networking sites can be used to further promote government information and services. By setting-up a Facebook page, for example, government can provide information resources and staff interaction with members of the public who are interested in a facet of an agency's work and mission. Doing so expands the government's outreach capabilities and ability to interact.

Rules of the Road

  • The DOI Social Media Policy addresses specific guidelines for the appropriate use of social networking websites and other social media technologies. Consult the policy before getting started
  • Only post information that is publicly available on the primary bureau or Departmental website (OMB M-10-23, Section 3, “Agencies should also provide individuals with alternatives to third-party websites and applications. People should be able to obtain comparable information and services through an agency’s official website or other official means.”).
  • Social networking sites generally allow for comments to be submitted in response to posts.  Refer to the Web/Social Media Comments section, below.
  • Work with your bureau records management office to determine how content posted on social networking sites and the comments submitted as responses should be managed as Federal records.
  • Follow the applicable rules pertaining to the revelation of personally identifiable information (PII) of any individual, including DOI employees, via social networking sites.
  • Be sure that commercial advertising does not appear on your social media site, prior to making the site public, whenever possible.
  • Do not engage in arguments or debates. Social networking websites are not the place to engage in debates over policy with members of the public or interest groups. Responding factually to substantive questions is OK, but engaging in policy debate is not. See the Response to Social Media Comments section.
  • TOS, Privacy, SORN
    1. Do not use a service in a manner that would violate DOI’s TOS, PIA or social media System of Records Notice.
    2. Consult with your bureau’s social media contact for the latest list of signed terms of service agreements and PIA’s.
  • Examples of Government Use
    1. Facebook: White House:
    2. Facebook: State Department:
    3. YouTube: White House:



The primary (and easy to remember) rule is that if a federal employee shoots video or takes a picture on government time with a government-supplied camera, the "work" (the image/video) belongs to the employer (the federal government).

  • "United States government creative works, including writing, images, and computer code, are usually prepared by officers or employees of the United States government as part of their official duties." (
  • "A 'work of the United States Government,' referred to in this document as a U.S. Government work, is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person's official duties." (See 17 USC § 101, Definitions.)
  • For more on copyrights, check out the CENDI FAQ on copyright.


Photo credits may be required. 

  • OCO requires photo credits for
  • Licensing may require photo credit.
  • Images not created by the government should be credited in such a way that our usage/license is clear.

Below is how Interior credits photos on social media (Bureaus can create their own standard):

  • Interior always includes a photo credit. The one exception is Twitter: If a photo was taken by an Interior employee and in the public domain, that tweet will not include a photo credit in the interest of saving space. Photos taken by employees are credited as “Photo by [employee name], [Bureau].” or “Photo by [Bureau].” if the employee name is not known.
  • Photos from the Share the Experience photo contest are credited as “Photo by [photographer name] (” To save space on Twitter, the photographer’s name is only used in the credit.
  • Photos taken by the public and given permission by the Department to share on social media are credited as “Photo courtesy of [photographer name].” To save space on Twitter, the photographer’s name is only used in the credit.

Blogging and Microblogging

There are many benefits and risks in maintaining a public blog on a Government website, with the top risk being the potential legal liabilities. Although blogs are generally meant to be informal, DOI blogs are official Government communications and must be treated as such. Their content must be controlled to ensure that it is in keeping with the mission and reputation of the authoring agency.

Microblogs consist of short entries (usually 140 characters or fewer) and are generally posted through third-party sites such as Twitter.

Rules of the Road

  • Consult the DOI Social Media Policy.
  • Blog Approval and Management
    • All blogs hosted on Department of the Interior owned or sponsored public websites must be approved by the bureau’s office of communications or public affairs prior to creation and implementation of the blog. The office of communications or public affairs will help determine if other entities within the bureau or Department must be notified or consulted about the blog prior to creation. Such entities might include, but are not limited to, the Office of the Chief Information Officer, the Office of the Solicitor, or records and privacy officials.
    • Blog topics must both avoid areas of potential litigation and the appearance of being an official channel for comments used as part of a rulemaking process.
    • Blog posts must be written by Interior personnel.  Per SOL memorandum “External Author Blog” dated September 19, 2011, “Allowing an author outside the Department of the Interior (DOI) to blog … presents problems including noncompliance with information quality guidelines pursuant to the Information Quality Act and the possible appearance of endorsement by DOI of specific organizations or companies.”
    • Prior to implementation of the blog, bureaus and offices must notify the appropriate personnel in the Departmental Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) and Departmental Office of Communications (OCO) of all approved bureau or office blogs and provide the following information: the purpose of the blog; proposed blog web address (URL); and point of contact information. Failure to obtain required approvals or to make required notifications prior to implementation may result in removal of the blog from the hosting website.
  • Approval and creation of a new blog requires that DOI bureaus or offices
    • Examine the need for the blog style and justify why a standard information feed would not be sufficient.
    • Have a policy in place that governs who can post a blog.
    • Identify the DOI bureau/office author on the blog;
    • Establish a procedure for reviewing/approving blog entries;
    • Establish a process for archiving the information on the blog and retaining blog content according to its records disposition schedule (See Appendix E);
    • Establish a policy regarding editing/disqualifying submissions if the public is allowed to place comments on the blog;
    • Establish a policy regarding replies to comments or questions if the public is allowed to submit blog comments;
    • Include privacy, FOIA, and disclaimer notices on the site, as appropriate; and
    • Address all IT security concerns associated with the blogging software and its use on Government Web servers.
  • Blog Content
    • Anything posted to the Web that is managed, maintained, hosted, or sponsored by the Department of the Interior and/or any of its offices or bureaus is an official government publication and must comply with all applicable Federal laws and policies and the DOI Web Standards.
    • As an official publication of a U.S. Government organization, blogs must be fair, accurate, and as unbiased as possible while supporting the DOI mission.  Blogging activities must not interfere with the agency’s primary mission.
    • Blogs are intended for the informal exchange of information and ideas and not as a conduit to receive official comments on bureau proposed rule-making. They play no official role in organizational decision-making. Citizens wishing to leave comments regarding Federal Register notices must do so via the process described in the notice.
    • Blogs must be predictable, reliable, and dependable. Once a blog is started, it must be regularly updated. On occasion, blogs may be established to support a specific project or study. When the project of study is completed, the last blog entry will clearly indicate the date blog entries were ended.
    • Blog content provided by DOI or bureau representatives must meet the accepted DOI or Bureau standards for information quality. DOI and bureaus must have a process in place for ensuring that content meets DOI or bureau standards. Links from blogs must comply with Departmental linking policies in the DOI Web Standards, (see below).

Web/Social Media Linking and Sharing

It's important to be thoughtful with what you post on the web and social media and how you phrase it. While the following list isn't extensive and does not include all possible scenarios, it may be used to guide decision making when it comes to what to link to or share. Consult with your Bureau Ethics Office for more details as some bureaus have additional restrictions in place.

  • The Department will continue its practice of not sharing content from accounts run by political parties or partisan political groups. It would be appropriate to share content from @WhiteHouse, official @POTUS, @FLOTUS and @VP. As the federal government, we must never show political bias.
    • Remember that even after elections, campaign accounts are still run by a political party and still off limits. This includes accounts such as @BarackObama, @JoeBiden, etc. The bios should indicate that the accounts are run by campaign organizers. Professional judgment (or consultation with your ethics office) may be required.
    • A partisan political group is defined by the Hatch Act as any committee, club or other organization which is affiliated with a political party or candidate for public office in a partisan election, or organized for a partisan purpose, or which engaged in partisan political activity. The word "partisan" when used as an adjective means related to a political party. (5 CFR 734.101) Determining if an account is indeed run by a partisan entity will require case by case analysis. However, if a website is soliciting donations for a partisan political party, candidate or organization, the group or organization who runs the website is engaged in partisan political activity and would thus be deemed a partisan political group and DOI should not share content from its social media accounts.
    • In a post-election period, the Office of Special Counsel does not find that displaying campaign slogans in the office would be prohibited political activity. Following this model, the Department may share content from an otherwise acceptable social media account even if that post contains a campaign slogan.
  • Never share/RT/repost content that would imply (or appear to imply) that the federal government is promoting a company or telling the public to buy something.
    • It is OK to share content from people who visit public lands -- it's the point of being social on social media -- and tagging their content.
    • If a photo is from an outside photographer, that photographer still owns the copyright and you must give the photographer credit. Do NOT link to the photographer's website in the post. We are not the marketing arm of professional photographers. The only way to give out the website is if someone asks for it, and it is your practice to answer questions on social media.
  • Never share/RT/repost content that shows support/opposition to a legislative bill. As the federal government, we are not allowed to advocate for anything that requires action from Congress or influence public opinion. The 2015 GAO report on the EPA’s Water Rule communications is a good reference for how far that point can be taken.
    • If you have questions about specific examples, we are happy to talk them through with you.
  • Only post data or information that is publicly available. Never share internal guidance on social media.
  • Only share/RT/repost content that relates to the Department’s mission. It’s OK to share mission-related content from other federal agencies, Interior Bureaus and public lands locations.
  • You may share/RT/repost links to news articles if they related to the Department's mission. It's also OK to share articles about or include quotes from employee(s) at your park/refuge/public land. Here’s a set of guidelines for sharing links to external news articles:
  • You may share links to news articles (as above) on your websites.
    • Our websites already contain notices that links do not imply endorsements. Let’s not foul that by including endorsing language with the links themselves. shares external news with its eponymous “External News” tool. It presents the story in our news-feeds, clearly flagged as being from another government source or a commercial source. This isn’t a required scheme, just what we’ve come up with. Suggestions are welcome. There is an argument that government “shouldn’t pick winners” in the commercial space, and that providing a link to a story only on a particular website is picking a winner. On the other hand, we pick winners all the time. Choosing Gmail for Interior email gave Google bragging rights. Our choice of Drupal for gave props to that open source project. In public affairs, press teams give reporters exclusives or early access to embargoed content. It happens. So, how do we reconcile these points?
    • On, we don’t stick with one source for our news references. We choose the source that seems most appropriate at the moment of sharing.
    • Your bureau may choose to institute a more restrictive policy. Check your bureau guidance before publishing.

Web/Social Media Comments

Comments received through two-way blogs must be reviewed by the bureau (or DOI if it is a Departmental blog). Each blog must have clear and defensible standards for comments.  All sites that allow visitors to post comments should make it clear whether comments will be moderated and should include a disclaimer. For example:

“We welcome your comments and hope that our conversations here will be courteous. You are fully responsible for the content of your comments.

“We do not discriminate against any views, but we reserve the right to delete any of the following:

  • off-topic comments
  • violent, vulgar, obscene, profane, hateful, or racist comments
  • comments that threaten or defame any person or organization
  • The violation of the privacy of another individual
  • solicitations, advertisements, or endorsements of any financial, commercial, or non-governmental agency
  • comments that suggest or encourage illegal activity
  • comments promoting or opposing any person who is campaigning for election to a political office or promoting or opposing any ballot proposition
  • comments including phone numbers, e-mail addresses, residential addresses, or similar information
  • multiple, successive off-topic posts by a single user
  • repetitive posts copied and pasted by multiple users”

“Communication made through this service’s e-mail and/or messaging system will in no way constitute a legal or official notice or comment to the U.S. Department of the Interior (or bureau) or any official or employee of the U.S. Department of the Interior (or bureau) for any purpose.

“References to commercial entities, products, services, or nongovernmental organizations or individuals are provided solely for information. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of U.S. Department of the Interior (or bureau), the United States Government, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying U.S. Department of the Interior (or bureau) endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

“Reporters or other media representatives are asked to send questions through their normal channels (the appropriate DOI/bureau office public affairs or communications office) and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions may be removed.

“This Comment Policy is subject to amendment or modification at any time to ensure that its continued use is consistent with its intended purpose as a limited forum.”

Mishaps: What to Do When Things Go Wrong

We all make mistakes. If it's a minor typo, it's easy enough to edit a post or issue a correction. In spite of your best efforts, major accidents can happen. What should you do in that instance?

  • Remain calm. Take a screenshot of the post so you can use it in your debriefing later and in case it is deemed a federal record.
  • Contact your supervisor and your Bureau’s social media lead, who will determine who else needs to be alerted in the Department.
    • If something majorly problematic has occurred, your public affairs staff and the Office of Communications at Interior will need to know the details in case additional follow-up is required.
  • If there is a question about who posted it, immediately update passwords and review/revoke app access (see below).
  • Consult with your supervisor and your Bureau’s social media lead to see if the problem post should be deleted. Unless it’s a simple grammar fix, acknowledge what happened on the same feed where the problem occurred, and note the actions taken.
  • Move on. Don’t dwell on the mistake. Get back to your regular posting. Avoid trolls.
  • Review the incident with your social media team. What went wrong? What went right? How can you improve your policies, practices, training, or response going forward?

Security Best Practices

It’s important that only authorized employees have access to our social media accounts.

  • Create strong passwords for your account, using a passphrase, and a mix of uppercase, lowercase, numbers and symbols. Some social media services display password “strength” meters when choosing new passwords. Choose passwords that meet the highest standard.
  • Regularly update passwords to social media accounts. Be sure to change them after an employee changes jobs in the Department, no longer works for the Department, or no longer contributes to Department social media accounts to ensure unauthorized employees don’t have access to Department-managed social media accounts.
  • For Twitter, regularly review third-party apps (settings > apps). Learn more about third-party app access on Twitter.
  • Immediately after updating a Twitter password, also revoke access to any sites that you’ve granted posting permission to, especially:
    • iPhone, iPad and Android apps
    • Tools for posting
    • Password managers.
  • IMPORTANT: Updating a social media password won’t necessarily cause a mobile app to prompt users for the new password, but revoking app permissions will. Here’s how to find the apps that have access to your Twitter account:


  1. Don't feed the trolls. Starve them of attention. 
  2. If it's a fellow federal agency trolling you -- ignore them anyway, or deal with them via phone or email.
    Energy Department Trolls Interior

Document- and Data-Sharing Repositories

Document and data sharing websites are just what their name implies: places where users post information and material that other users can use and repurpose, creating a dynamic repository covering a potentially wide variety of subjects. is one example of a government repository for information, but there are many other established online sites in the commercial sector that can also be used to make data and information available to the public and for the public to provide the government with valuable information. Document sharing websites (e.g., Scribd, SlideShare, and Socrata) can share documents, presentations, webinars, and/or datasets with the public.

At present, SlideShare has been approved by DOI; however, this should not be taken as an endorsement of SlideShare, nor an indication that other document-sharing websites will not be approved.

Rules of the Road

  • The DOI Social Media Policy addresses specific guidelines for the appropriate use of Document Sharing websites and other social media technologies. Consult the policy before getting started.  An additional link to the Social Media Policy may be found in the footer of
  • Only post information that is ready for public consumption and has been approved through regular review processes. Never post data or information that is only for internal view or use to a public website. This is not the place to post or share working documents.  Although most services protect accounts via passwords, stored files are not necessarily encrypted, so a successful hacker might gain access to stored-but-unpublished files on such a service.
  • External (non-dot-gov) document repository websites should never be the only source of a DOI document available to the public. All documents posted on document repository websites should also be publicly available on a bureau or office website.
  • Privacy & SORN
    • Use document-sharing sites only in a manner consistent with DOI’s approved PIA.
    • Under no circumstances should anyone use a document-sharing site in such a way as to violate DOI’s social media System of Records Notice.  Establishing a system of records in violation of a system of records notice may result in large fines and disciplinary action.
  • Please see our Services section for further details.
  • Examples of Government Use

Social Bookmarking

Social bookmarking tools such as Digg, Reddit, or Delicious allow users to share links to interesting information with larger audiences. These Web services typically allow users to organize their bookmarks using tags and share them either with the public, a specified group, or privately. Adding a simple widget on DOI or bureau content pages that allows visitors to share the content of the page via social bookmarking tools, social networking tools, or e-mail is a simple way that DOI and bureaus can drive traffic to their websites and allow visitors to quickly and easily share our information with their networks or communities.

At present, no such site is approved for use by DOI; however, in anticipation of future approvals, the following will apply:

Rules of the Road

  • The DOI Social Media Policy addresses specific guidelines for the appropriate use of social bookmarking Web services and other social media technologies. Consult the policy before beginning any implementation.
  • TOS, Privacy, SORN
    • Only use services that have an approved TOS and privacy impact assessment signed by the Department of the Interior.
    • Be sure that any “sharing” on public-facing Web space does not point to non-public content.  The URL might be helpful to hackers.
    • Do not use a service in a manner that would violate DOI’s social media System of Records Notice.  Establishing a system of records in violation of a system of records notice may result in large fines and disciplinary action.
    • Consult with your bureau’s social media contact for the latest list of signed terms of service agreements and PIA’s.
  • Examples of Government Use