White House Employees Warned About Violating the Hatch Act

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.

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The End of Social Media?

The increasingly authoritarian behavior of social media companies is troubling and begs the question: are they worth our time?

The early days of social media were exciting. It was a new way to connect with friends, share photos and organize events, share your opinions and interests and promote projects.

I was an early fan of social media. I created my Facebook profile in 2005, when you still needed a .edu email address to join. I’ve spent countless hours finding friends on Myspace (remember that?) and hundreds of dollars of advertising on Facebook. I used to think it had great potential.

As membership ballooned, however, it became increasingly difficult to reach out to the people you want. A few years ago, Facebook buried all non-promoted Page posts, so you had to pay just to reach your own fans. A page with thousands of fans might only get a few views on a non-promoted post.

Facebook has an obligation to its investors to make a profit. I understand that, but we have no obligation to use their service, especially now. Facebook started as a platform where anyone could go on and express themselves. Then they started acting like a gatekeeper. (Remember the controversy over Facebook removing photos of women breastfeeding?)

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Tragedy Girls: A Fresh, Trendy Take on the Horror Genre

Two teen girls set social media on fire by kidnapping and unleashing a pet serial killer. Will they—or their friendship—survive this newfound notoriety?

Written and directed by Tyler MacIntyre with contributions by Chris Lee Hill, Tragedy Girls (2017) is a fresh, contemporary take on the genre. MacIntyre and Hill also collaborated on several other projects, including the horror-comedy Patchwork (2015), and the film undoubtedly benefited from their rapport.

Sadie Cunningham (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla Hooper (Alexandra Shipp) are high school cheerleaders who run an unpopular true crime blog. They hatch a plan to kidnap local serial killer Lowell (Kevin Durand) and convince him to work together. He refuses, so Sadie and McKayla opt for plan B: commit sensational murders and blame them on Lowell, all while increasing their readership with exclusive inside information on the crimes.

The plan goes awry when Lowell convinces McKayla that Sadie wants to take all the fame and notoriety for herself. He eventually escapes and tracks Sadie to her friend Jordan’s house. Jordan (Jack Quaid) is son of Sheriff Welch (Timothy V. Murphy). He has a crush on Sadie but suspects McKayla is really the serial killer. Lowell stabs Jordan, but Sadie wakes Sheriff Welch and he chases Lowell off.

The girls’ rift deepens as Sadie and Jordan fall in love and McKayla continues her life of crime with Lowell. I won’t spoil the ending, but Tragedy Girls concludes with a fiery prom night that will make anyone sensitive to the topic of school violence cringe. The film’s ending reinforces the notion that attractive, popular girls are perceived as incapable of being vicious killers.

Tragedy Girls tries to upend the traditional horror movie trope of male killers attacking female victims. Here, the killers are teen girls and their victims are predominantly men. Coupled with the relationship between two best friends, it’s stylistically similar to films like Jennifer’s Body (2009) and Ginger Snaps (2000), but without the supernatural elements. However, it shares with Ingrid Goes West (2017) the theme of social media triggering insanity.

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Ingrid Goes West

A social-media obsessed woman with borderline personality disorder moves to Los Angeles to insert herself into another woman’s life, severely disrupting the lives of everyone she encounters in this dark comedy by debut writer-director Matt Spicer. Ingrid Goes West (2017) has a lot to say about contemporary American society, but despite being shot and promoted as a comedy, there’s really nothing funny about it.

Its humor comes from Aubrey Plaza‘s performance as Ingrid Thorburn, the unfortunate young woman just looking for a best friend. Her portrayal is awkward, charming, and at times frightening. But even though we’re invited to laugh at her fumbled personal interactions, there are no jokes or one-liners. This lack of overt-comedy is not a deficit.

As the film opens, a distraught Ingrid maces a bride for not inviting her to the wedding and is committed to a mental hospital. Upon release, she sees Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) in a magazine and begins following her on Instagram. Ingrid comments on a photo and Taylor replies, inviting her to check it out next time she’s in LA. Coincidentally, Ingrid’s mother dies, leaving her with a $60,000 inheritance. Ingrid uses that money to move to LA and rent a house from aspiring screenwriter and Batman fanboy Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.).

Once in LA, Ingrid remakes her personality and appearance in Taylor’s image and plots to insert herself in the woman’s life, going so far as to kidnap her and her husband Ezra’s (Wyatt Russell) dog so she can return it. Ingrid and Taylor become friends, but their relationship is complicated by the appearance of Taylor’s drug-addict brother, Nicky (Billy Magnussen), and fashion blogger Harley Chung (Pom Klementieff), who begin to monopolize Taylor’s time.

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Social Media Policy Crosses the Line in Case of Woman Who Gave Trump the Bird

You’ve probably heard this disturbing story of Juli Briskman, who was fired after a photo of her giving President Trump’s motorcade the middle finger went viral. Her employer, a government contractor called Akima, LLC, justified terminating her employment on the grounds that she violated their “social media policy” by using the photo as her profile picture on Twitter and Facebook.

“Basically, you cannot have ‘lewd’ or ‘obscene’ things in your social media. So they were calling flipping him off ‘obscene,’” Briskman said. What a cheap excuse!

While it’s true Akima is a government contractor, and Briskman was clearly making a political statement, she did it on her own time, and posted the photo on her personal social media accounts. If this isn’t considered a direct attack on her freedom of expression, I don’t know what is.

In June, I argued that it was wrong for National Park Service employees to express their displeasure with the Trump administration because they were doing so on official government accounts.

It is inappropriate for Federal employees to engage in politics while at work, using government equipment, and in their official capacities, but I have no problem with them doing so on their own time, on their own social media accounts.

Likewise, if Briskman had been driving in a company vehicle, and the photo clearly showed Akima branding, I could see where they might have a case for reprimanding her, since it makes the company look bad. But not only was she riding her bicycle on her own time, you can’t even identify her in the photo.

There ought to be a separation between a person’s employment and his or her private life, and you shouldn’t have to fear reprisals at work for political opinions you express in your free time. Apparently Virginia is a state where an employer can fire an employee anytime, for any reason, but I still think this is ridiculous enough to open them up to a lawsuit.

Jenna Abrams Exposes American Media’s Stupidity

“Jenna Abrams had a lot of enemies on Twitter, but she was a very good friend to viral content writers across the world,” begins a Daily Beast exposé on a Twitter user that turned out to be the creation of the Russian-controlled Internet Research Agency. The article is meant to alarm readers about Russian influence in mass media, but in fact just shows how dumb the American media really is.

According to the Daily Beast, Jenna Abrams “at one point boasted nearly 70,000 Twitter followers.” Despite an “audience” amounting to 0.0002 percent of the U.S. population, her tweets ended up being quoted in articles published by a wide variety of news organizations and websites, including USA Today, The Washington Post, HuffPost, The Daily Caller, The Telegraph, CNN, and even the New York Times.

Why? I’ve talked about the tendency of lazy journalists to use Twitter as fodder to churn out articles and drum up fake controversy before. It’s easy to find a handful of tweets and quote them in an article, creating a perception of disagreement or consensus on an issue. The fake Jenna Abrams account gave them exactly what they wanted.

So who’s really to blame for getting trolled by the Russians? For an industry that supposedly prides itself on checking its sources and being the gatekeepers of factual information, they sure didn’t do a good job verifying to whom they were giving a wide platform.

Now media outlets are covering their asses by pretending Jenna Abrams and other fake accounts were “popular” and “influential” during the previous presidential election. A few thousand Twitter followers, many of whom were also probably fake, on a national scale is less than statistically insignificant.

Anyone can create a Twitter account, pretend to be whoever they want and say whatever they want. It’s ridiculous how much the news media cares about what anyone says on Twitter, or any social media for that matter, but that’s why the media’s credibility is at all-time lows.

Why I ‘Unliked’ Social Media

How often have you pulled up your Twitter or Facebook feed and seen nothing but fake news or ridiculous headlines?

How often have you been drawn into worthless arguments that lead nowhere?

How often have you seen someone you used to respect post something completely stupid that changes your opinion of them entirely?

How often have you “unfriended” or “unfollowed” someone for any of the above reasons?

How much time do you spend repeatedly checking updates on social media?

I’ve had a Facebook account since 2005, when you still needed a .edu email address to sign up for an account and it was just about sharing pictures and organizing events with your college buddies.

Even back then social media was kinda worthless. Remember Myspace and the social manipulation of arranging your “top eight” friends?

Over the years, I’ve considered deactivating my accounts so many times, but the thought of losing touch with all my friends kept me hooked. Facebook even uses that fear to guilt-trip you into keeping your account when you try to leave.

I’ve also used Facebook in the past to successfully promote my books and articles, but here’s a secret: it doesn’t work anymore unless you pay for it.

Facebook allows you to create pages to stay in touch with your fans, but hardly any of them will ever see what you post unless you “pay to promote.” Twitter recently adopted this model as well.

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter use your social connections and personal information to make money. I don’t have a problem with it–you voluntarily sign up and they have to stay profitable.

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have begun censoring users, deleting or hiding posts they deem offensive and banning or suspending nonconformist accounts. Again, they are private companies and I support their right to decide what kind of content is shown on their platforms.

But does that mean I should continue to use those platforms? Not at all. Tech execs like to pretend these platforms have become an indispensable part of modern life. They’re wrong. I can live without ever seeing another funny cat photo.

At this point, the drawbacks to social media far outweigh the supposed benefits. I decided not to support it anymore, to focus on growing my website and finding other, healthier ways to connect with friends and family.

So if you really want to keep in touch, send me an email (the old fashioned way). I’d love to hear from you.