Digital media connects people. It can be used to educate the public about the government’s work and services, promote cooperation across government, and connect internal audiences that are traditionally stove-piped and geographically dispersed. Engaging with others on social media puts a face to a bureaucratic federal agency -- expanding the government's outreach capabilities.
The following Digital Media Guide provides website and social media best practices and is regularly updated to address changes in the digital space.
Approved Social Media Services
The Department is required to review Terms of Service (TOS) and complete a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) on any social media service, prior to creating new social media accounts at any level in the Department. View a full list of social media services that are approved for use by the Department.
If you are interested in using a social media service that is not approved, contact the social media lead for your bureau to inquire about starting the process.
Official Social Media Accounts
Each bureau and office is required to maintain an inventory of all official social media accounts and to provide that list on the U.S. Digital Registry and the bureau’s or office’s public website. When adding your accounts to the U.S. Digital Registry, you must include:
- “Department of the Interior (DOI)” along with your bureau in the agency section.
- Additional account contact information in case of an emergency in the notes section.
Social media accounts should be updated regularly. Social media accounts that haven’t been updated in 3 months will be assessed by the bureau that manages them to determine if they should be archived and deleted.
For an official multi-partner/multi-agency entity, where a DOI bureau is a partner, then the social media accounts created to represent that entity will need to follow the social media policies of the primary partner's Agency and partner's bureau.
For example, in the case of an entity where the primary partner is a DOI bureau, then the entity will need to follow all related social media policies of DOI and any additional policies of that DOI bureau. If there are more than one DOI bureau partners within the entity, where one of those bureaus is considered the primary partner, then the entity can decide which DOI bureau's social media policies they prefer to follow.
Rules of the Road
- The DOI Digital 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, Departmental or government 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.”).
- The majority of social platforms allow for comments to be submitted in response to posts. Refer to the Web/Social Media Comments section.
- Do not engage in arguments or debates from an official government account(s). Responding factually to substantive questions is OK, but engaging in policy debate is not. See the Response to Social Media Comments section.
- Be sure that commercial advertising does not appear on your social media site, prior to making the site public, whenever possible and take action to have the provider remove commercial advertising as soon as you discover it.
- Work with your bureau records management office to determine how content posted on official social media accounts and the comments submitted as responses should be managed as Federal Records. See the records section below for more details. Follow the applicable rules pertaining to the revelation of personally identifiable information (PII) of any individual, including DOI employees, via social media. See the privacy and social media section.
- Do not use a service in a manner that would violate DOI’s terms of service, Privacy Impact Assessment or social media System of Records Notice.
Requesting Social Media Accounts
All social media accounts must be approved before an office/location creates a new account. The Office of Communications Digital Team approves new social media accounts for the Department’s offices. Bureau social media leads are responsible for approving new social media accounts for that bureau.
Any office, site location or program that wants to create a new social media account must fill out the social media request form.
Each official social media account (both new and already existing) must have a primary contact who is responsible for passwords; onboarding, training, and offboarding employees who have access to that account; and sharing internal social media guidance. The contact must be a full-time, permanent employee. Official accounts must have a backup contact who fills in when the primary contact is unavailable or on leave.
If contractor staff are intended to help manage an official account, then the creation or writing of content (i.e., posts, tweets, etc.) must be done by the federal point of contact for that account, or by another federal employee. If the contractor wants to write the post, it should be reviewed by the federal point of contact before being posted. Contractor staff need to get their content approved since they are not considered official representatives of the Department or Bureaus and are not able to speak on behalf of those organizations.
Any social media account that has not been approved via the official approval process may be terminated.
Onboarding and Offboarding
Interior employees must successfully complete the social media training class and sign the social media user agreement before being granted authority and access to post to a government social media account.
The primary contact for a social media account is responsible for onboarding and offboarding employees, including make sure individuals take the mandatory social media training and sign the social media user agreement. They also will remove social media access for employees who no longer need it.
Onboarding Social Media Access
All new employees must review the Digital Media Policy, successfully take the social media training and sign the user agreement before getting access to an official social media accounts. If a bureau requires training beyond the one required at the Department-level, new employees are also required to successfully complete that training before access is granted. See the security section below for roles.
Offboarding Social Media Access
When an employee leaves the Department, ends her/his detail, or moves to a different office and no longer has social media responsibilities, all passwords to social media accounts that person had access must to be updated within 24 hours. If that person had delegated access to accounts, their access must be revoked within 24 hours.
When offboarding an employee of social media duties, make sure to reassess who needs to continue having access to accounts and the third-party apps that are allowed to post. See the security section below for more details on each platform.
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.
Rules of the Road
- Consult the DOI Digital Media Policy.
- Blog Approval and Management
- Blog posts must be written by Interior personnel or affiliated programs. 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.”
- Approval and creation of a new blog requires that DOI bureaus or offices
- Establish guidance regarding editing/disqualifying submissions if the public is allowed to place comments on the blog;
- Establish guidance regarding replies to comments or questions if the public is allowed to submit blog comments;
- 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.
- Blogs are intended for the informal exchange of information and ideas and not as a conduit to receive official comments on bureau proposed rulemaking. 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. However, 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.
- Blogging using external sites:
- If you host a blog on an external site, such as Medium or Tumblr, the content must be cross-posted to a government website in some form or you’ve established a way to archive content for records purposes. See more on records section 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.
- Political Parties and Groups: 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. DOI bureaus may have additional restrictions with regards to sharing content from non-DOI accounts. Contact your social media lead at your bureau for more information.
- 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 engages in partisan political activity. The word "partisan," when used as an adjective, means related to a political party. “Political activity” means an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group. (5 CFR 734.101) Determining if an account is indeed run by a partisan entity will require a 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.
- Endorsements: Never share, retweet, or repost content that would imply (or appear to imply) that the federal government is promoting a company or encouraging the public to buy something.
- Outside posts: 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. See the photo section for crediting outside photographers.
- Lobbying: Never share, retweet, or repost content that shows support/opposition to a legislative bill. Anti-lobbying laws prohibit the Department from advocating for or against anything that requires action from Congress or state legislatures or covertly influencing public opinion. The 2015 GAO report on the EPA’s Water Rule communications provides social media guidance that as part of the anti-lobbying provisions, the federal government cannot:
- Make any kind of express appeal to the public to contact Congress regarding proposed or pending legislation;
- Link to (or liking, retweeting, etc.) any website/social media account making an appeal to contact Congress regarding proposed or pending legislation;
- It's important to keep in mind before you link to/share content from an outsider organization that under GAO's interpretation, the Department would be at risk of a violation of the anti-lobbying provisions even if an appeal to Congress is added after we linked (or otherwise shared) the content.
- Covertly represent the Department's views (such as through a Thunderclap campaign); and
- Self-aggrandize (inflate the importance of the agency).
- If you have questions about specific examples, we are happy to talk them through with you.
- Loose-lips: Only post data or information that is publicly available. Never share internal guidance on social media.
- Mission-focus: Only share, retweet, or repost content that relates to the Department’s mission. It’s OK to share mission-related content, including from partners, other federal agencies, Interior bureaus, and public lands locations. Before you retweet or share anything with a link, be sure to read the entire article.
- News articles: You may share, retweet, or repost links to news articles if they are related to the Department's mission. It's also OK to share articles about or include quotes from employee(s) at your location, office or bureau. Here’s a set of guidelines for sharing links to external news articles:
- News articles on websites: You may share links to news articles (as above) on your websites.
- Interior websites contain notices that links do not imply endorsements.
- Do not include conflicting endorsement language with the links themselves.
- Example: DOI.gov shares external news with its eponymous “External News” tool. It presents the story in news-feeds, clearly flagged as being from another government source or a commercial source.
- Your bureau may choose to institute a more restrictive policy. Check your bureau guidance before publishing.
DOI employees, or those working on behalf of DOI, who use social media for strictly personal use outside of the workplace do not require approval to do so. However, many laws, regulations, and policies that apply to an employee’s official activities apply as well to employee activities in their personal lives. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has issued two documents (hyperlinks below) containing guidance on political activity by federal employees.
- The Hatch Act Guidance on Social Media includes a number of examples illustrating how personal social media use and the Hatch act intersect.
- The Social Media Quick Guide includes a checklist for allowed and disallowed social media activity for all federal employees in their personal capacity and those who are further restricted from actively participating in partisan political management or campaigns under the Hatch Act.
Remember: Employees, even when not on duty or in the workplace, may not post or tweet a message that solicits political contributions or invites people to a fundraising event. Additionally, employees, even when not on duty or in the workplace, may not like, share or retweet a post that solicits political contributions, including invitations to fundraising events.
Below is a chart with some typical scenarios you may encounter and how you can respond in your official or personal capacity. If you are ever unsure always consult your ethics office.
|1) Share content about bills in front of Congress?
||It is permissible to share content about a bill but you may not lobby Congress or urge others to lobby Congress in your official capacity or by using official resources (see #4 below).
||Yes, but on your own time and on your own device (see #4below).
|2) Fundraise for nonprofits (in some cases, you’ll have to check with ethics)?
||Check with Ethics Counselor, in most instances this is impermissible.
||YES but not at work. You may never solicit funds from a prohibited source (defined at 5 CFR 2635.203(d)). You may not create the appearance that DOI is endorsing your activities.
|3) Highlight partner stores, friends group events that cost money?
||Absent express authority, you may not endorse or encourage the public to buy items at partner or friends group stores. A purely informational post about available services may be permissible with a disclaimer, but consult your ethics office.
||Yes, but it cannot appear DOI is sanctioning or endorsing your activities or those of another.
4a) Advocate for or comment on bills in front of Congress?
4a) NEVER on social media.
|4b) Bills in state legislatures?
||4b) NEVER on social media.
Just because a photo is on social media or the internet, doesn’t mean it’s in the public domain. For photos not in the public domain, it’s important to get permission to use the photo and properly credit the photographer.
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), not the photographer. Copyright works very differently when the work is a federal product:
Photo credits may be required.
- OCO requires photo credits for DOI.gov.
- Licensing may require photo credit.
- Images not created by the government must be credited in such a way that our usage/license is clear.
- 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. If someone asks to purchase a user-submitted photo that you shared on social media, you may suggest that the person contact the photographer directly.
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 is 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] (www.sharetheexperience.org).” 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.
Web/Social Media Comments
Comments received through two-way blogs or social media sites must be reviewed by the bureau (or DOI if it is a Departmental blog). All sites that allow visitors to post comments should make it clear whether comments will be moderated and should include a disclaimer.
Below is the example of the comment policy for Interior’s Facebook page that was vetted with the Solicitor’s Office:
“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, email 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.”
Inappropriate Comments on Social Media
If someone makes an inappropriate comment on social media that violates the account’s social media policy, remind that person to be respectful of the comment policy. Here's a helpful guide for determining how to handle the comments.
Example response: “We keep this a safe place for discussion and education, free of [INSERT INFRACTION]. Any comments that go against our community guidelines (share where posted) will be removed. Please feel free to comment again with respect for the guidelines!”
When inappropriate comments cross the line and become a threat:
- Take a screenshot of the comment for records (if it’s on Facebook, do not hide the comment).
- Email the comment URL and screenshot to the law enforcement contact at your location, who will decide what steps to take and must retain according to their own records schedule.
What to Do When You See Threatening or Illegal Activity
- You must report any comments about threatening or illegal activity you see on a government social media account.
- Take a screenshot of the post for records (see social media records section).
- Do not delete or hide the post.
- Report it to your bureau’s law enforcement lead or the law enforcement lead at your site (e.g., park, refuge, etc.) and be sure to share the link of the post and the screenshot.
- If the investigator provides a specific notification to hold the post/comment it must be retained regardless of the records schedule until the hold is specifically removed.
- If the investigator provides no specific instructions to hold, then the normal records retention schedule should be followed. See the investigative guidance in the social media records section.
Mishaps: What to Do When Things Go Wrong
We all make mistakes. Sometimes it’s minor, such as a typo. Other times in spite of our best efforts, major accidents can happen.
There is a difference between deleting and correcting content on social media.
- Deleting: A post should be deleted if the content should have never been posted in the first place (e.g., the content doesn’t reflect the social media policy, or the account was hacked).
- Correcting: Correcting is when you update a post, or reply to the post as a comment, to clarify language while still preserving the meaning of the original post.
What should you do when a mistake happens? Below are a number of mistakes that can happen and the steps you should take:
- Update the post on the platforms you can edit. If it’s on Twitter and you notice it within a couple minutes of posting, delete and repost without the grammar mistake.
- Be sure to respond to any comment acknowledging the grammar mistake for transparency.
- Correcting grammar or typographical changes can be made without preserving a copy for records because these are considered non-substantive changes and have no records value.
Accidental Share, Hacked Login or Inaccurate Post
- 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 (see social media records section).
- Immediately delete the post.
- 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 security section).
- Acknowledge what happened on the same feed where the problem occurred, and note the actions taken.
- For example with an accidental reshare, “Earlier we accidentally published a post that has since been deleted. We're looking into how that happened.”
- Check out this example from Reuters Twitter account about how to handle a correction.
- Here’s an example from McDonald’s about how to handle a hack.
- 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?
- For more on hacking, explore the Federal Cyber-Vandalism Toolkit.
Posting Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
- Do not post sensitive personally identifiable information on social media applications.
- When PII is inadvertently posted without consent or authorization, it is important that employees take immediate corrective action to reduce any impact to individuals.
- Take a screenshot of the post and preserve it, and any related information, as a Federal record for investigation, notification, or other remedial action (see Social Media Records section below).
- Immediately delete the post and notify your supervisor and bureau/office social media lead.
- Any suspected or confirmed breach of PII must be immediately reported to your IT help desk or DOI-CIRC at DOICIRC@ios.doi.gov or 703-648-5655.
- Be prepared to provide the screenshot and details regarding the post including the date and time, description or summary of what occurred, and any other pertinent information.
What to do When You Notice a Mistake on Another Bureau’s Account
- Notify the social media lead for that bureau, and make sure to copy the Department’s social media lead for awareness.
- Consult Interior’s social media contact list or Digital Registry for the account manager’s contact information.
Social Media Records
Social media content is considered a federal record. How long content needs to be maintained depends on the subject matter. For example, a tweet on a major change of agency direction would likely be preserved for longer than a tweet on how pretty a particular photograph is.
DOI is currently compiling a Departmental Records Schedule, which will address social media. Until that schedule is in place however, social media contacts will need to rely on their bureau records office to apply the appropriate records schedule to the social media posts based on their content.
It is important to note that if a post is made to one social media platform and then subsequently reposted to other platforms, the reposts to the subsequent platforms can be considered reference copies and do not need to be retained for records purposes.
If the post is altered in substance however, then the posts from both social media platforms will need to be retained for records purposes.
General Records Guidance for Social Media
- The Federal Records Act (44 USC 31) provides the authority under which Federal records need to be maintained.
- The staff at the bureau records office are experts at knowing how to comply with the Federal Records Act and should be consulted on any unusual circumstances (records loss or destruction, preservation holds, unclear disposition authorities, etc.) related to records management that may arise.
- When records provide information that may be used in the conduct of an investigation, and are copied/forwarded on for potential use by an investigator, the original owner of the record acknowledges that these may be used for evidentiary purposes that require further preservation.
- Records disposition (whether destruction or retirement) can be suspended in the case of active litigation or investigation, but this will only be done with active communication from the investigating office (or the solicitor). Otherwise, records will be maintained for the time indicated in the approved records schedule and disposed of accordingly.
- 180 days is a commonly used baseline for 'transitory' records that have little value for regular business, but even this can be shortened if there are extenuating circumstances (for instance, routine surveillance videos have a 30 day retention because of the high volume of storage required to keep them). This timeframe should be understood by the investigating office so they can make a timely decision on whether preservation of original information is necessary.
- Before removing a post/comment, the user needs to take a screenshot of the post or other content.
- Deleting content to correct grammatical mistakes, links, or mistakes or adding missing information is not a record and those tweets don’t need to be kept.
- Managers need to create a log in a spreadsheet that references all posts or content that has been removed and explain the rationale for removing (inappropriate content, unauthorized post, accidental sharing, etc). This log should be organized by Fiscal Year.
- Retain the log and the associated posts as appropriate based on the bureau or departmental records schedule; the only reason to retain past the records schedule is for an investigation or litigation.
Security Best Practices
It’s important that only authorized employees have access to official social media accounts.
- Create strong passwords for your account. We recommend at least 12 characters long, 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 Interior social media accounts.
- Whenever possible, use two-factor authentication.
- Whenever possible, do not share passwords.
- It’s against Facebook’s Terms of Service to have more than one account. The result is government Facebook pages will be managed through personal Facebook accounts. If your bureau or office decides to manage Facebook accounts in a different way, you are responsible for ensuring account security and content at all times.
- These are 6 different roles for pages and how they should be used:
- Admin: Has full access to the page, including managing page roles and settings. There should only be two admins (at most) for a page.
- Editor: Creates and deletes posts, responds to comments, etc. Can have as many editors as necessary but must review access every 3 months.
- Moderator: Can respond to posts and view insights. Can have as many moderators as necessary but must review access every 3 months.
- Analyst: Can view page insights -- good for someone who needs to see analytics but has no other responsibilities. Can have as many analysts as necessary.
- Live contributor: Can only do a Facebook Live from a mobile device. If it’s a one-time live contributor, immediately remove access after the livestream ends.
Some employees who manage an Instagram account but don’t have a government-issued device (see guidance below on using personal devices) might add the official account on her/his personal device. Make sure that before an employee leaves the Department, the official account is removed from the personal device. See detailed instructions on how to remove an Instagram account.
Government Furnished Devices vs. Personally Owned Equipment
Some social media accounts, such as Instagram and Snapchat, require a mobile device to post and respond to comments. Below is guidance for using government furnished devices and personal equipment for managing social media.
Some bureaus might have more restrictions than others due to the nature of their work. Always check with the social media leads before adding an official account on personal equipment.
Government Furnished Equipment (GFE)
It is OCO and OCIO’s preference that all social media managers or anyone responsible for updating an official social media account be provided with a government furnished device (GFE) to perform their duties.
- Social Media managers should not use their personal social media (unless they are required by their bureau or office to use it to manage an official page) on their government furnished equipment. Personal social media should only be used on personal devices.
- Do not integrate personal and official social media accounts on any GFE device. For example, adding both your personal Twitter account and a bureau account you manage on your Twitter app.
Personally Owned Equipment
For Personally Owned Equipment, you should not add an official social media account to your device. All official social media duties must be done on your GFE if you are given one.
In the cases that social media managers aren’t provided a GFE and must use a personal device to manage a social media account, they must use extreme care to not co-mingle personal and official accounts.
DOI has a responsibility to protect individual privacy when engaging or interacting with the public on the Department’s website and official social media sites.
Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is any information that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual's identity, either alone or when combined with other information that is linked or linkable to a specific individual.
Examples of PII include: name, username, email address, image, date of birth, physical address, location information, nationality, Social Security number, government issued identifiers, credit card number, bank account number, medical history, or any other information that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity.
- PII may only be posted when authorized, such as in cases where you have individual consent.
- Collect PII only when authorized, and minimize the collection of PII to that which is needed to accomplish the authorized activity.
- Safeguard PII collected or maintained, and limit access to authorized personnel who have an official need-to-know, in accordance with the OMB authorization of the information collection.
Privacy Program Governance
An Adapted Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) must be conducted for the official use of a social media application prior to engaging the public, to assess the privacy risks associated with the use of the social media application in accordance with the DOI PIA Guide.
A Privacy Act system of records notice (SORN) must be published prior to any collection of information from individuals for maintenance in a Privacy Act system of records. Bureaus and offices may have published SORNs that cover their specific program activities. These SORNs govern what and how information about individuals is collected, maintained and shared. Employees should use SORNs as guidelines when collecting or using PII and making decisions about records about individuals. Program officials should consult with their bureau or office associate privacy officer prior to collecting PII from employees or members of the public.
DOI has published the DOI-08: Social Networks SORN to enable bureaus and offices to implement public outreach programs, promote interaction with the public, and facilitate the sharing of information and ideas using third-party or commercial social media applications. Consult your bureau or office Associate Privacy Officer for approved uses of social media under the DOI-08 SORN, which may be viewed on the DOI SORN page.
When collecting information from the public that will be maintained in a Privacy Act system of records, post a Privacy Act Statement at the point of collection that includes: the legal authority, purpose and uses of the information, who the information will be shared with, whether the provision of information is voluntary, any consequences for not providing information, and a citation or link to the applicable SORN in the Privacy Act Statement.
Location data, pictures, contact, passwords, and credit card numbers are a few examples of the sensitive data that may be collected and transmitted through a mobile application.
508 Compliance for Social Media
Social media services and device manufacturers offer a varying degree of support for accessibility. By using social media for Department communications, it’s incumbent upon social media managers to ensure they make their content as accessible as possible given the support presented by those services. Social media managers should leverage the best practices within the DigitalGov Social Media Accessibility Toolkit to help make their content as accessible as possible.
General Social Media Accessibility Tips
- Make your contact information available on your website’s social media page. Provide a link to your bureau/office website that lists the appropriate contact information.
- Make your social media content available through more than one channel. Provide easy points of entry for more information. Some of the most common ways are to post threads on your website, provide options to sign up for daily email digests of social media posts or to add a social media widget to your agency website.
- Write in plain language, use camel case when appropriate (i.e., capitalize the first letters of compound words as in #SocialMedia), and limit your use of hashtags, abbreviations and acronyms where possible. The use of camel case is not only a common practice, but a helpful one as it makes multi-word hashtags easier to read, including for those using a screen reader.
- Learn the accessibility requirements and periodically test your content for accessibility. Read the Section 508 Standards and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Levels A and AA success criteria and other key resources that discuss them. Then test your social media content with a screen reader or other type of assistive technology.
- When posting a photo of text (such as a screenshot of a statement), to aid in 508 compliance you must provide explanatory text and a link to the full text whenever possible.
Tips for Making Facebook Updates Accessible
- The federal government is full of acronyms. Don’t assume your audience is knowledgeable about all acronyms. Take advantage of the space Facebook provides and always spell out the first instance of the acronym and add the acronym, in parentheses after (e.g., Social Media Emergency Management (SMEM)).
- Add captions to photos to ensure that individuals will understand what is going on in the picture.
- All videos including those with text overlaid on the video still need captioning. Upload using an SRT file. Limit linking to content that your bureau/office has not created and/or you do not know whether that content is accessible or not. Facebook has an Accessibility Team that is dedicated to issues specific to accessibility and assistive technology. They can be reached through Facebook and Twitter.
Tips for Making Tweets Accessible
- If your tweet links to photo, video or audio content, make your tweet act as a descriptive caption so it provides context for the item.
- Make your photos more accessible by enabling and adding image descriptions to the photos you tweet.
- When linking to content on your .gov website, be sure that content is also accessible, e.g., a tagged photo, captioned and audio described video or audio with written transcript.
- If possible, avoid using unfamiliar acronyms that would sound strange if read by a screen reader or that could be confusing to some readers.
- Use camelcase for multiple words within a hashtag; that is, capitalize the first letters of compound words (e.g., use #DigitalGov not #digitalgov).
- If you decide to link to an infographic, or picture, make sure that you adequately describe the content through text when possible. Just remember to use plain language and be concise in your descriptions.
- If publishing infographics, avoid complex layout and flows that require the reader to follow too many lines or arrows connecting one piece of content to another, use excessive images and text, and display wide variations and insufficient contrasts in color schemes.
- Keyboard shortcuts for common actions and site navigation are available to screen reader users.
Tips for Making YouTube Videos More Accessible
- Ensure all videos have closed captions and audio descriptions (where appropriate -- or link to a version that has audio descriptions).
- Descriptive language needs to be used in video captioning to denote necessary audio and visual elements. Make sure to use easy to understand language in your descriptions.
- Where possible, only include high-quality audio and try to limit use of music or other distracting sound effects.
- Good captions are not just a transcript of what is said in the video. It is also important to describe sounds and significant voice inflections.
- To create captions for video, or to edit your existing YouTube captions, there are a number of free tools that can help:
- Overstream: a popular Web-based captioning tool, with a related YouTube tutorial.
- CaptionTube: a Web-based captioning tool designed specifically for YouTube.
- MAGpie: a free Windows application from the National Center for Accessible Media.
- At a minimum, provide transcribed text to YouTube, rather than trusting YouTube to recognize the spoken language in your video(s). YouTube can match transcribed text to video much more effectively, when it has an accurate transcription.
- Note that there are certain companies that can create captions for a fee. The Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) provides a listing of captioning and audio-description vendors.
- Video players should support the following requirements to be accessible to individuals with disabilities:
- Support for closed captioning and audio descriptions for deaf or blind users including the ability to turn captions and audio descriptions on and off.
- Keyboard navigable features for users who have difficulty operating a mouse.
- Buttons and controls must be properly labeled for screen reader users.
- Ability to increase or decrease volume.
- The YouTube player on the YouTube site is not fully keyboard accessible (e.g., it can be impossible or very difficult for ar user with a motor disability to turn on captions without a mouse). Therefore, do not use the standard YouTube plugin. If YouTube video must be used, an accessible player must be added and have captions enabled by default.
Sometimes referred to as video description, audio description is an additional audio track that describes essential visual information. Audio description makes videos accessible to people who are blind or low vision by using words to capture what is happening on screen. Audio Description is usually delivered as a separate audio track that a person would play alongside the original video (in the same way as a commentary on a DVD).
Audio descriptions are played during natural pauses or periods of silence within the audio track. For an example of effective audio description, see National Park Service video America’s Wilderness.
There are three ways to add audio descriptions to your videos:
- Build the Descriptions into the Video. Before you record your video, you can usually weave the audio description of key visuals into the dialogue. This prevents you from having to go back later and add audio descriptions. For example, in a training video, instead of pointing to a slide and saying, "as you can see on this slide, the traffic peaked here", you can say "this chart of website traffic for the last year shows that it peaked in August." Additionally, request speakers or subjects identify themselves and their surroundings (rather than only showing their name on screen). This way, anyone—whether or not they are visually impaired—will know who is speaking. Please note that this option is not always possible, especially if individuals are speaking while text is being shown on screen.
- Create a Second Video. You may create two videos, one with audio descriptions and one without. You can post these videos with labels such as “Video with audio descriptions” and “Video without audio descriptions.”
- Add an Additional Audio Track. If you have a video player and streaming protocol capable of supporting multiple audio tracks, the user can choose which audio track to play. Many online video and multimedia players don’t support extra audio tracks. Examples of accessible video players that support multiple audio tracks include JW Player and Able Player.
- Note: YouTube doesn’t support extra audio tracks. Therefore, you will either need to use another video player that supports audio descriptions or post two versions of the video - one with audio descriptions (and closed captioning), and the other with just the closed captioning.
Tips for Making Blogs Accessible
- A blog template should have few columns and a simple layout. The layout should be consistent across all pages of the blog so as not to confuse users. The blog’s design should have enough color contrast between the background and the font for ease of reading. Avoid using colors that clash and try to avoid using green, blue and yellow too close together. Black text on a white background is preferred.
- Add alternative text and captions to all images on the blog and within posts. Link to videos and audio components. Ensure that sounds and video do not play upon a page loading – give users the choice to press the play button.
- Text such as “click here” or “read more” can make it difficult for people with screen readers to understand where a link will take them. Instead of these short phrases, hyperlink fully descriptive text so that users will know where they are going when they follow a link.
- Keep your writing simple. Use plain language and write in the active voice. Break up long paragraphs into smaller chunks of text.
- Although Tumblr is considered a popular micro-blogging and social media tool, many users with disabilities find it difficult to navigate. There are some ways to help make this easier. Tumblr is image-heavy, so as with all Web content, alternative text should be used. The use of GIFs on the site can also be difficult for individuals with sensitivities to flashes.
Tips for Making Other Social Media Platforms Accessible
- Your LinkedIn profile should have a clear image to accompany your name so users can distinguish you from other potential contacts with a similar name or brand.
- All Pinterest content is “pinned” to boards from outside sources. Include a description of the item you are pinning.
- Instagram provides alternative text capabilities and users should provide a caption explaining the image. Use camelCase for multiple words within a hashtag. Instagram videos should have a caption associated with it. For more information on video accessibility, read the Tips for Making YouTube Videos Accessible.
- Don't feed the trolls. Starve them of attention.
- If it's a fellow federal agency trolling you -- ignore them anyway, or deal with them via phone or email.
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. Data.gov 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 Digital Media Policy addresses specific guidelines for the appropriate use of Document Sharing websites and other social media technologies. Consult the policy before getting started.
- 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 policy and an approved PIA.
- Under no circumstances should anyone use a document-sharing site in such a way as to violate the Privacy Act and applicable DOI System of Records Notices. Establishing a system of records or improperly disclosing records in violation of the Privacy Act may result in criminal penalties, including a fine and misdemeanor charge, and disciplinary action.
- Please see our Services section for further details.
- Examples of Government Use
Social bookmarking tools such as Reddit, or Pinboard 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 (preferably DOI’s NCShare or another cookie-free sharing alternative) to web 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 to drive traffic to our websites and allow visitors to quickly and easily share 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 Digital 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.
- Consult with your bureau’s social media contact for the latest list of signed Terms of Service agreements and PIAs.