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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Action||Official Capacity||Personal Capacity|
|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.||4b) Yes.|
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.
Below is how Interior credits photos on social media (Bureaus can create their own standard):
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.”
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:
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.
What should you do when a mistake happens? Below are a number of mistakes that can happen and the steps you should take:
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.
It’s important that only authorized employees have access to official social media accounts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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: