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Federal Workers Warning: Online Activity Poses New Danger To Your Jobs

Twitter Screenshot 3-6-18
Many "rogue Twitter accounts" are attached to national parks, and they hide the true identity of the person who holds the account. Under the Hatch Act, these federal workers could also lose their jobs by getting too active in partisan politics.

Federal employees who are using social media to vent about the nation’s Tweeter-in-Chief and other political candidates are getting some fresh advice: Watch it!

The Office of Special Counsel in Washington recently cautioned federal employees about their Facebook posts and tweets. They can lose their jobs if they show support for a candidate or political party while using workplace accounts — and sometimes personal accounts.

“The fact that we have a president who is sort of the Twitterer-in-Chief in a position to basically shut down social media competition is another one of the ironies here,” said Jeff Ruch, who works for the advocacy group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Ruch says a federal law, the Hatch Act, limits political activities of public employees. And it leaves some workers especially vulnerable, like those in lands and environmental agencies.

“This is a case of a century-old law not exactly fitting the 21st century,” he said, “and we’re sort of in uncharted territory.”

Ruch pointed out that even public employees using pseudonyms are at risk too. They’re behind dozens of “Rogue Twitter” accounts tied to federal agencies like the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Nearly 37,000 federal employees work in Utah. Over 2,000 of them work in Interior Department Agencies, and 1,900 get paychecks from the U.S Agriculture Department, according to Governing magazine.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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