US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has her staff support her personal Twitter account.
US Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown has a gag Twitter account for his dog Gracie.
And US Ambassador-designate to the Vatican Callista Gingrich is tweeting about her job before starting in an official capacity.
Some of President Donald Trump’s highest profile political appointees are running afoul of the government’s social media rules, enshrined in the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual.
The rules, pushed through in January after years of internal deliberations, are designed to prevent political appointees from exploiting public office by using their official title to build a massive social media presence and then taking their account with them when they reenter the private sector or retire.
Brown, the short-term, former senator from Massachusetts, and Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, both use their personal Twitter accounts for official business alongside their government-owned accounts.
According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, that’s verboten. “Senior officials and other employees whose positions make it appropriate for them to engage in official communications on behalf of the Department over social media ... must not use personal social media accounts to do so,” according to the rule book. “They must use official social media accounts, created and owned by the Department.”
Haley’s staff also helps service her Twitter account, including tasks such as taking photos that are disseminated to her more than 770,000 followers.
That is prohibited in the Office of Government Ethics’ Standards of Conduct, which say “a supervisor may not order, or even ask, a subordinate to work on the supervisor’s personal social media account. Coercing or inducing a subordinate to maintain the supervisor’s personal account would amount to a misuse of position and, if done on official time, a misuse of official time.”
Gingrich, meanwhile, shouldn’t be tweeting at all about issues related to her job until she officially begins. But her account has been particularly active in recent weeks.
When provided with these examples, a State Department spokesperson declined to defend any of the US ambassadors. “We are always working to ensure that the use of social media accounts is consistent with the guidance in the FAM.”
“As questions arise, we look into them on a case-by-case basis,” the spokesperson said.
The challenge of getting political appointees to abide by social media policy is a perennial one for the State Department. In the Obama administration, political appointees such as former US ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder prompted hours of internal deliberations after he refused to relinquish his Twitter account despite the view of some career officials that it should be government property. (Daalder did not respond to a request for comment.)
Daalder, who now boasts a following of more than 35,000 users, won his bureaucratic battle and kept his account. Others, such as former US ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, lost, and her 125,000-follower account sits here idly.
It remains to be seen if State Department bureaucrats will feel empowered to impose rules on Trump’s senior political appointees such as Haley or Gingrich. The Trump administration’s most high profile violator of social media policy, after all, is the president himself, who continues to use his personal account, @RealDonaldTrump, for official purposes.
John Hudson is a foreign affairs reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact John Hudson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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