Legislative Social Media Policies and Resources

State legislative caucuses and agencies increasingly are using social networking sites to reach out to constituents, but the sites can raise questions for government. For example, citizens may not be aware that privacy policies and terms of service agreements of social networking sites could conflict with government policies and statutes. Many social networking sites contain advertisements; for governments with social networking pages, do the ads imply endorsement of products shown? How should government officials and employees handle offensive or obscene content posted by users? Can elected officials block followers and friends? How are Internet campaigning laws and rules being applied to social media? And how do public records and open meetings laws intersect with social networking? Legislative speech and debate immunity also may enter the mix.

In addition, social media use in the workplace is growing and gaining in acceptance, but concerns remain—about employee productivity, employee privacy, threats from viruses or spyware spread through social media sites, and other potential abuses or liabilities.

The policies and resources provided below are examples of some of the approaches state legislatures and other organizations are taking to address these issues. Share your information on this site by sending your policies and practices.

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Legislative Policies

Legislatures adopt social media policies in order to set ground rules related to site administration, appropriate content (including comments), and employee usage.

Usage Policies

Site Policies or Disclaimers

State (Executive Branch)

Social media is a useful tool for a state agency that wants to inform a wide audience about its mission and programs. But an agency also needs an effective policy that clarifies who is permitted to post on its behalf, as well as what sort of internal use is appropriate. 

Examples of State Agency/Statewide Social Media Policies

Other State Resources

Federal Resources

Resources in this section range from congressional and federal agency policies in effect to studies of best practices.

NCSL Resources

NCSL publications have addressed ethical issues particular to social media, as well as other considerations for elected officials.

Other Resources

Additional guidance on crafting and implementing an effective social media policy is available from sources ranging from technology companies to think tanks.

Contact: Holly South, NCSL Denver office, with updates and additions or for additional policies and information. 303-856-1495, holly.south@ncsl.org

Text of Legislative Policies and Disclaimers

Many of the below address comments by specifying the purpose of the page and defining what content is appropriate - as well as the administrator's right to remove anything perceived to be in violation. Other policies explain the use of links to external sites.

Indiana Senate Democrats, Forum Policies (Policy retrieved 2/20/2010)

To participate, you will need to sign in with a Google account. Any records or personal information used with that account will remain with Google, and are not kept or maintained by the Indiana Senate Democrats.

We ask all those who participate to conduct themselves in a civil manner. Questions will be monitored for inappropriate content, including but not limited to material that is obscene, pornography, defamatory, libelous, threatening, abusive, hateful, or excessively violent.

The Senate Democrats will make every effort to allow for the natural democratization of the questions posted through the Google Moderator system and will not screen questions for content, except in the cases noted above.

Users also must know that neither the Senate Democrats nor any Senator is responsible for any content arrived at by clicking through to any other Google Moderator series or website through the Google Moderator portal.

The official Indiana Senate Democrats Google Moderator series is located at http://moderator.appspot.com/#16/e=d7d6a

Michigan House Republicans Facebook Page (Retrieved 4/21/2012)

General Information

This page is managed by House Republican Communications.

We welcome your thoughts and comments on the posts, photos and other items that we place on the page. Visitors to this Facebook page may post views and opinions in reaction to our materials, and we encourage debate. All opinions and comments should contribute to the dialog. We do not condone any form of harassment, written attacks, insults, vulgarity or indecency whether perpetrated in writing or the transmission of images. As it is an official legislative site, we do not allow any campaign-related information.

New York Senate Terms of Participation (Policy retrieved 4/21/12)

Terms of Participation for NYSenate.gov Websites.

The New York State Senate (the “Senate”) encourages the public, as well as members of the Senate, to participate in and contribute content to this website. Contributors (hereinafter referred to as “Participants”) are encouraged to take advantage of the many opportunities to provide input that the website(s) afford, and in so doing contribute to a fair and respectful dialogue among the general public and New York’s elected public officials.

To promote open and productive dialogue, and in the spirit of fair and transparent access to the Senate’s website(s), Participants are hereby advised that all postings, including any links to 3rd-party sites, shall be subject to limited monitoring for appropriateness. For purposes herein, appropriateness is defined as postings that are relevant to New York State’s official governmental business, responsive to the issue(s) being discussed, and phrased in respectful and appropriate language for the general public. 

The following types of content are considered inappropriate for posting on the Senate website:

commercial; self-promotional; campaign-related; prurient; abusive; discriminatory speech, including but not limited to, hate speech based on race, gender, sex, national origin, age, sexual orientation, religion or disability; in certain contexts personal contact information; content which otherwise violates GSA .Gov guidelines as found at < http://www.dotgov.gov/policy_guidelines.aspx >.

If content is determined to be inappropriate, such content either will not be posted or will be removed from the website by a Senate staff member designated for such review (“the Reviewer”). Such action will be taken in order to maintain the effective operation of the website(s) as a forum for civil, constructive and thoughtful discourse. If a Participant notices that his or her content is not posted within 48 hours of submission, and he or she wishes to dispute the determination by the Reviewer, such Participant may request an explanation of rejection by the Reviewer at < http://www.nysenate.gov/contact_form >.  In turn, if the Participant disagrees with the explanation given, he or she may request for an appeal by a review panel comprised of no less than three bipartisan Senate staff members appointed by the Secretary of the Senate.

Participants should note the following prior to posting content on any Senate website(s):

(a) Regarding community-moderated content, a participant may flag content he or she believes to be in violation of this Terms of Participation. He or she may not flag content due to disagreement with opinions stated.  If several flags are noted by the Reviewer, such Reviewer may remove the content pending review for appropriateness.

(b) Any comments submitted for posting by a Participant may be rated and/or otherwise commented upon by other members of the public. 

(c) By participating on the Senate’s website(s), a Participant hereby acknowledges that he or she has read, understands and agrees to be bound by the terms as outlined herein, as well as with any applicable laws and regulations relating hereto.

Updated: Dec. 20, 2010 

New York State Senate Facebook Page (Retrieved 4/21/2012)

Description

This page is designed for the public to have a place to learn more about, and comment on, the New York State Senate. The only thing we ask is that comments do not include name-calling or foul language.

Any comments violating this rule will be removed and repeated violations will result in that user being banned from making further comments on our page.

We also ask that you refrain from so-called "SPAM" messages. Thank you.

New York State Senate Disclaimer(Policy retrieved 8/13/09) (Dialog box appears after Facebook and Twitter links are selected)
This link will take you away from the site you are viewing. The New York Senate is not responsible for the content of this external website.

North Carolina House Democrats Privacy Policy (Excerpt retrieved 8/13/09))

Links to Other Sites

Please be aware that we may provide links to third-party Web sites as a service to our visitors. We are not responsible for the content or information collection practices of those sites. Please note that these sites' privacy policies may differ from ours. We encourage you to review and understand their privacy practices before providing them with information.

Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus Link Policy (Twitter)  (Policy retrieved 8/13/09) (Web page appears after Twitter link is selected) Exit Notice You are transferring to a social media portal which contains legislative information. It also contains material generated by the portal host, and material generated by private individuals such as you. The Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus is not responsible for any content posted by these independent parties. While this social media portal provides information which may be of interest, providing the link is no endorsement or guarantee of accuracy of the information which is generated by independent parties. The social media portal may have privacy policies and other practices that differ from those of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus. You are encouraged to review those policies and terms of use in order to make informed decisions about your participation on this social media portal. If you wish to continue, please click the icon below. Thank you!

Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus Facebook Comment Policy (Policy retrieved 4/21/12)

About

Comments should center on legitimate concerns or observations relating to legislation, the PA House of Representatives or state government. Political campaign information is strictly prohibited. Posts which violate these restrictions will be removed.

Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus Facebook Terms of Use Policy(Policy retrieved 4/21/12) Welcome to a legislative Facebook Page maintained by the Republican Caucus of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The purpose of this legislative Page is to provide information about Pennsylvania legislation, government initiatives and how government affects you. For additional information, please see the Caucus website at http://www.pahousegop.com.

The Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus reserves the right to remove any posts which are unrelated to legislative discourse or which are defamatory, obscene, truly threatening or which incite lawless action or illegal conduct.

The Pennsylvania Public Official and Employee Ethics Law prohibits the use of any legislative resource for an election campaign purpose. Posts related to election campaigns will be removed.

Any posts in violation of this policy may be removed without notice and may result in the suspension of the privilege to post information.

Posts to this Page, including suggestions for legislation, will be treated as non-proprietary and your submission will be deemed an unrestricted license to use the material.

Posts to this Page are publicly accessible. Do not post sensitive personal information, such as Social Security numbers, phone numbers, mailing addresses or home addresses. If you choose to post any personal information, you do so at your own risk.

This Page contains legislative information, material generated by Facebook and may also contain material generated by private individuals. The Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus, its Members and employees are not responsible for any content posted by independent parties.

While this Page provides information which may be of interest, there is no endorsement or guarantee of accuracy of the information contained herein. In an effort to keep information current, posts to the Page will be removed after 30 days. Any information on this Page should, however, be independently verified for accuracy. The Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus, its Members and employees make no representations or warranties as to the accuracy, reliability or timeliness of information published on this Page and are not liable for any loss caused by reliance on the accuracy, reliability or timeliness of this information.

This Page does not, and cannot, provide legal advice. In order to understand your rights under the law, and how those rights are affected by your particular factual situation, you must consult with an attorney.

Facebook has privacy policies and other practices that differ from those of the Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus. You are encouraged to review those policies and terms of use in order to make informed decisions about your participation on this Page.

This Page cannot be used for service of any demand, complaint, legal notice, administrative notice or any other legal process. Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus Facebook Comment Policy (Policy retrieved 4/21/12)

Comments should be limited to a discussion of legitimate concerns related to legislation & state government. Campaign information should not be posted. Posts which violate these restrictions will be removed. Read Terms of Use for more info.

Texas Legislative Council (Retrieved 4/21/2012)

About

If you are looking for more information about the Texas Legislative Council, please visit http://www.tlc.state.tx.us/.

General Information

You are encouraged to share your thoughts as they relate to the topic being discussed. We expect comments generally to be courteous.
To that end, comments are reviewed according to the following guidelines:

We reserve the discretion to remove comments that:

  • Contain obscene, indecent, or profane language;
  • Contain threats or defamatory statements;
  • Contain personal attacks or insulting statements directed toward an individual;
  • Contain hate speech directed at race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, ethnicity, age, religion, or disability;
  • Promote or endorse services or products; (Note that non-commercial links that are relevant to the topic or another comment are acceptable)
  • Are unrelated to the topic being discussed;
  • Are of a repetitive or “spamming” nature (the same comment posted multiple times).

Washington Senate (January 2009)

The Senate recognizes that technology, particularly in the area of computer and Internet applications, is advancing at a phenomenal pace that makes it difficult for any written policy to keep up with the latest emerging trends and capabilities. The Senate recognizes that such technology should be made available to both its members and the public, and opportunities for public communication through emerging media should be explored and utilized. With this in mind, the Senate generally recognizes that the technology or medium being utilized for communications should not be the sole controlling factor in determining the propriety of a communication; instead, the nature and content of the communication, itself, should be used to determine whether it is appropriate under applicable ethics and Senate guidelines. Nonetheless, certain media and technology can present challenges and potential problems that are unique. As a result, the Secretary may approve certain technology and media communication on a case-by-case basis or pilot program to ensure that this new methodology meets ethics and Senate guidelines. The Secretary shall keep the Facilities & Operations Committee informed of such programs, communications, and technology changes.

Additional sample language:

  • The Senate recognizes that the Internet is constantly evolving and desires to make its materials available to as many members of the public as possible. In recognition of the changing nature in which many people get information from the Internet, members of the Senate may post, upload, or otherwise share Senate-created multimedia on common public multimedia share networks such as YouTube, flickr, Yahoo!, or Google. All applicable ethics restrictions and Senate policies remain in effect with respect to such sharing, and the Senate assumes no responsibility for subsequent use or modification of any such materials shared on a non-Senate site.
  • The Senate recognizes that social networking tools such as Twitter are a valuable but ever-changing means of communicating with colleagues and the public. Regardless of the ultimate format or means of distribution, any content created with state resources on behalf of the Senate or a Senator shall conform to all applicable laws and Senate policies, including but not limited to ethics, copyright, public records, and decorum mandates. 

Washington State Senate Democrats (for Google Moderator discussion series)(Policy retrieved 8/13/09)

Forum Policies

To participate, you will need to sign in with a Google account. Any records or personal information used with that account will remain with Google, and are not kept or maintained by the Senate Democrats.

Questions will be monitored for inappropriate content, as reasonably determined by the Legislature, including but not limited to material that is obscene, pornography, defamatory, libelous, threatening, abusive, hateful, or excessively violent.

The Senate Democrats will make every effort to allow for the natural democratization of the questions posted through the Google Moderator system and won't screen questions for content, except in the cases noted above.

Users also must know that the Senate Democrats nor any Senator is responsible for any content arrived at by clicking through to any other Google Moderator series or website through the Google Moderator portal.