A reprimand for engaging in politics on official accounts shows the importance of distinguishing between official and personal social media.
Last summer, in what seemed like an eternity ago as new scandals and outrage constantly emerge, there was a brouhaha over news outlets treating President Trump’s Twitter posts as official White House statements. Despite a contrary statement from then White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, I still believe Trump’s personal Twitter feed should not be treated as official statements from the White House, and this latest incident shows why.
According to CNN, six White House officials were sent letters of reprimand from Office of the Special Counsel to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Executive Director Noah Bookbinder for violating the Hatch Act.
The Hatch Act, passed in 1939, prohibits employees in the executive branch of the federal government, except the president, vice-president, and certain designated high-level officials, from engaging in political activity while acting in an official capacity. Most relevantly, the Act allows federal employees to express opinions about candidates and issues, but prohibits them from engaging in political activity while on duty, in a government office, wearing an official uniform, or using a government vehicle.
“All six violated the Hatch Act by using their Twitter accounts, which they use for official purposes, to tweet messages considered partisan by OSC. Four of the six tweeted messages that included “#MAGA” or the slogan “Make America Great Again!” Shah tweeted a message from his account citing research from the Republican National Committee. Ditto retweeted Shah’s message with RNC research.
…Tweeting those slogans from an account used for official purposes as a federal employee is considered political activity, the letter states. In Shah’s and Ditto’s cases, they highlighted research conducted by a political party, which OSC considered engaging in prohibited political activity.”CNN
While President Trump is technically exempt from the Hatch Act, the Act recognizes the difference between a federal employee expressing a political opinion on their own time vs. at work, acting in an official capacity.
@realDonaldTrump is Donald Trump’s personal Twitter account. @POTUS is the official Twitter account of the President of the United States. Is there a difference? Yes!
This is an important distinction recognized in law. Americans should be free to express their political opinions, but they shouldn’t use their positions of power to gain a political advantage over their rivals. Using an official Twitter account, for example, to spew political propaganda is generally looked on as a bad thing. Those accounts, like the positions themselves, belong to the public and not one particular party or individual.