Social Media and Rules for Political Activities and Lobbying

Graphic of social media logosLegal Services Corporation Guidance on Application of Restrictions on Political Activities and Lobbying to Use of Social Media by Grantees, Grantee Staff and Grantee Board Members

I.      Overview

This guidance provides examples of how the LSC restrictions on political activities and lobbying apply to social media activities and posting of materials by grantees and grantee staff through both organizational and personal accounts.  LSC is sending this out to all grantees and will post it on the lsc.gov website in the Grantee Guidance section along with related guidance and materials.  Compliance with these restrictions is important and, if you have any questions regarding these topics or this guidance, please contact Mark Freedman in LSC’s Office of Legal Affairs:  mfreedman@lsc.gov

A.    Restrictions

This guidance involves activities that a grantee and grantee staff must not undertake because of the political activities and lobbying provisions of the LSC statutes and regulations.  See 45 C.F.R. Parts 1608—Political Activities and 1612—Lobbying.

B.    “Lobbying or Political Activities” Refers to All Restricted Political and Lobbying Activities

This guidance uses the term “lobbying or political activities” as shorthand for any activities prohibited by these restrictions, which include lobbying, grassroots lobbying, and political activity.

  • Lobbying example: A grantee stating on social media that Congress should increase funding for LSC.
  • Political activity example: A grantee endorsing on social media a candidate for election to Congress.
  • Factual statements are generally not prohibited by Parts 1608 or 1612.  Thus, a grantee can say that it employs 16 attorneys and LSC funds support 12 of them who handle an average of 400 cases a year.

C.    Differing Restrictions for LSC and its Grantees

The restrictions applicable to LSC itself differ from those applicable to LSC grantees.  For example, LSC grantees cannot ask Congress for more LSC funds.  By contrast, the LSC Act permits LSC itself to discuss future LSC funding with Congress.

II.    Social Media

A.    The Rules Applicable to Social Media Are the Same as Those Applicable to Other Types of Communication

Actions through social media in the name of a grantee or through a grantee’s organizational account must not include any prohibited lobbying or political activities.  These rules apply to all types of expression.  The same rules that apply to a sign on the door apply to a post on social media sites.  This guidance addresses specific examples in social media, which include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat and Instagram.

B.    Likes, Follows, Shares, Etc.

Social media have their own vocabulary.  These are some of the typical uses of these terms.  Usually, social media actions can either be public for anyone to see or limited to specific people or categories of people.

  • A “post” has information, pictures, or videos that someone adds for other people to see and sometimes comment on or share.
  • A “feed” shows posts from others with whom you have connected.
  • A “page” or “home feed” shows a profile (“about”) and posts.  Usually, every post on a feed has an author, and clicking on the author’s name brings up the author’s page or home feed.   As used here, a page also includes a grantee’s traditional website.  Some social media have multiple types of pages that may operate differently.  For example, Facebook allows pages for individuals, groups, businesses, and organizations. 

Images of social media feed with labels for author, post, and likes.

  • If you “like” a page, you will see posts in your feed from another user’s page and the other user’s feed can show your posts. Sometimes the other user can see in their feed your likes, reactions, and comments to other posts, and you can see theirs.
  • You can also respond to an individual post with a “like” or by writing a “comment.”
    Likes options from FacebookIn some social media, “like” is one of a set of “reactions.”
    For example, Facebook offers the following reactions:  
        • Like   • Love   • Haha   • Wow   • Sad   • Angry
  • If you “follow” a page, you will see posts in your feed from another user, but the other user’s feed will not show your posts.  Someone who follows you will see your posts and sometimes your likes, reactions, and comments to other posts.
  • “Share” or “repost” are ways that you post through your account something that another user posted on their account.  These are also ways to add a link on your website to something on another entity’s website.

III.  Grantee Social Media Accounts and Websites

A grantee may have a social media account.  This guidance addresses an account that the grantee uses as a public face similar to its website or a community bulletin board.  People such as clients, donors, supporters, and critics, could follow or like the account.

A.    All Posts on a Grantee Account Are Subject to the Lobbying and Political Activities Restrictions

  • Posts—no lobbying or political posts.
  • Shares or reposting—no sharing or reposting lobbying or political posts.

B.    Likes or Follows of Another Page

1.     Ask yourself to what extent the posts on the other page or account are permitted or restricted communications, because your page will be listed as liking or following that page.
2.     Examples of allowed pages or accounts for liking or following:
    • Official Government pages or accounts—U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Dev.—@HUD
    • Official pages or accounts of Government Actors—Senator Richard Shelby—@RichardShelby
    • LSC’s Page—@LegalServicesCorporation
3.     Examples of prohibited pages for liking or following:
    • Campaign pages or accounts—CandidateX for President—@CandidateXPresident
    • 527 election advocacy groups—MoveOn.org—@moveon

4.     If you are uncertain, err on the side of caution, or ask LSC.

C.    Shares or Reposts of Another Post

1.     Ask yourself if you could directly post on your page the content of the item shared or reposted.
2.     Sometimes you cannot share a post from a source that you can follow.
3.     Allowed shares or reposts:
4.     Prohibited shares or reposts

D.    Likes, Reactions, or Comments on a Post from Another Page

1.     Likes and reactions are all expressions of an opinion.  Generally, you should be very careful using them because they are imprecise. 
    • Example: a sad reaction to an article about broken families due to deportation could mean support for the U.S. family members or could mean opposition to continued deportations.
2.     Ask yourself if you could directly support or oppose the content of the other post.  Do not use like or a reaction when a grantee could not say it supports or opposes the other post.
    • Example: a Senator posts on her page a proposal to increase LSC funding.  A grantee cannot add a like or a reaction because those are “lobbying” or “political” opinions about a proposed government action.
3.     Does the other post contain statements that would be restricted if made directly by a grantee?  Do not like or react to such a restricted post.
    • Example: a newspaper posts an editorial advocating for more LSC funding.  The grantee could not use any Facebook reactions because they all would express an opinion about increasing LSC funding.
4.     You can use like or a reaction for posts that are clearly unrelated to support of, or opposition to, government actions.  For example:
    • You can like a post by another LSC grantee about a successful case.
    • You can react—for example, angry–to an OIG report about fraud at an LSC grantee.

5.     Comments on a post should be reviewed with the same care as a press release.   

IV. Personal Social Media Accounts of Grantee Employees

Normally, a personal social media account is not attributed to the person’s employer.  You may use a personal social media account for your own personal political or lobbying activities, which could include posting, sharing, liking, and commenting.  That doesn’t change simply because people who read it also know that you work for a grantee.  But you must take care to avoid creating the impression that your actions should be attributed to your grantee employer when you engage in political or lobbying activities through social media such as posting, sharing, liking or commenting.

A.    Identification of the Grantee and Your Job in the Profile

1.     Not listing the grantee or your job in the profile avoids any questions about whether you are speaking for the grantee.
2.     You can list the grantee and your job as part of the general biographical information.  We recommend also adding a disclaimer if your posts contain statements that are political or lobbying.
    • Work:  Attorney at Central State Legal Aid (all posts are mine and not my employer’s)

B.    Identification of the Grantee or Your Job in a Post

1.     Not mentioning the grantee or your job in posts avoids any questions about whether you are speaking for the grantee, unless you have listed the grantee in your profile, in which case we recommend adding a disclaimer as described above, where you are engaged in political or lobbying activities.
    • Instead of identifying your employer (in either your profile or post), you can state that you are a poverty lawyer, or a legal aid lawyer, or a legal services lawyer.
    • Instead of identifying your employer (in either your profile or post), you can state your experience, such as saying that you have worked in legal aid for 20 years representing poor people in evictions and other housing cases.

2.     If you reference your grantee or your job, you must be careful to make clear that you do not speak for the grantee.

    • I work at Central State Legal Aid (this is my personal post, not their position). 

V.   Don’t Use Grantee Time or Resources for Personal Lobbying or Political Actions

A.    Grantee Time

During your working hours, you cannot engage in personal lobbying or political actions.  That includes posting lobbying statements to your social media page.  The best practice is to avoid all personal lobbying or political actions during your work day.  That policy applies wherever you work, including teleworking from your home.

If you engage in any lobbying or political activities during your work day, you should make sure to do so on your personal break, such as lunch hour.

B.    Grantee Resources

You cannot at any time use grantee resources for personal lobbying or political actions. 

  • Do not use a grantee phone, tablet, personal computer or laptop for any lobbying or political actions at any time.
  • Do not do that even on personal time.  While your grantee may permit some personal use of grantee devices, you cannot use those devices for prohibited activities.

VI. Situations That You Should Call Us About

There are many situations that may not be clear.  Please send any questions to Mark Freedman in LSC’s Office of Legal Affairs:  mfreedman@lsc.gov

This guidance and other related materials appear on the lsc.gov website in the Grantee Guidance section.