The California Legislature and Social Media (Part I)

This past week I was invited to speak at a conference on new media to staffers for the California state legislature, both Senate and Assembly. This was a very cool opportunity and when I was asked to speak, I immediately began thinking of all the best practices points I would go over. Only after I accepted did I learn the dark secret of both chambers of the CA legislature: staffers are forbidden from using social media.

And I don’t mean updating their own personal facebook pages. They are forbidden from updating their bosses facebook accounts or tweeting on their bosses behalf. And this is not just some obscure proceedural rule. The problem largely stems from the Political Reform Act of 1974, which means that it is probably a FELONY for a staffer to use government resources or government time to use social media. For the few staffs that have braved the social media waters (Senate, Assembly), it seems one workaround is to update from personal computers after work – not an ideal situation.

In the state that Silicon Valley calls home along with nearly every social media company HQ, their legislature cannot even use the products they produce. (Senators and Assemblymen are free to use social media themselves, the rules only apply to staff.)

The California government as a whole is not social media adverse. Governor Jerry Brown as well as hundreds of state agencies, sub agencies and government programs use facebook, twitter, youtube and more. The problem resides solely with the legislature.

Once I learned this, I started calling around to other states to see what policies or rules their legislatures had. I have not yet reached out to all 99 (points if you know why 99 and not 100), but what I’ve found so far is that California has the most restrictive rules regarding staff use of new technologies than any other.

Part II of this post will include the data I have obtained so far.

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