Posted 18 November 2015
By Zachary Brennan
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now encouraging its employees to use social media in a personal capacity, particularly for sharing information that may benefit public health, as long as employees make clear that their opinions aren’t the views of the agency.
The new policy, released last week, clarifies that employees do not need to obtain permission or approval from FDA supervisors or agency management to use social media in a personal capacity, although “ethical restrictions on receipt of compensation, disclosure of nonpublic information, and improper use of government title or official authority still apply to this activity.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists said last Friday that the policy “is a strong one,” noting that it’s the only federal agency or department with science in its mission that actually has a social media policy.
“Not all [federal] agencies’ policies made this important distinction in clarifying how their employees can use social media and only a few match or exceed the FDA policy’s excellent guidance on personal use of social media,” the union said, noting that often government scientists don’t engage on social media because they can’t mention their employer, which establishes their credibility. But now FDA employees can.
One important provision in the policy is that FDA scientists will now have the right to obtain corrections for any social media comments made that rely on their science but that are incorrectly broadcast, either by accident or intentionally.
The policy notes: “An agency employee can request that an agency social media communication be corrected, amended, or clarified if 1) the communication is based upon the research or published work of the employee or purports to express the employees views by name or title; and 2) the communication is false, misleading, or confusing."
As far as referring to their work with the agency, employees were informed not to call out that they are FDA employees “in a manner that suggests or implies they are speaking on behalf of the agency or that the agency sanctions or endorses their viewpoints or activities.”
But employees can include their FDA titles as part of biographical information, though they should not use FDA e-mail addresses to establish personal social media accounts or as an identifier during participation in personal or otherwise unofficial social media activities.
And like nearly any other federal or company employee using social media, FDA calls on its employees to put a disclaimer prominently in their profiles, such as: “The views and information presented here are mine.”
“In general, interactions on social media should reflect information found on FDA.gov and other official FDA sources, but it should not be source for original or new content,” the agency says. “New content created within social media that qualifies as a federal record must be captured and maintained in a recordkeeping system according to the FDA’s Records Management Policies.”
At the center/office level of the agency, FDA said that before establishing a new social media account, centers/offices must contact the Office of External Affairs and develop a social media strategy and a social media plan.
Social Media for Industry
The release of the policy isn’t the agency’s first foray into social media. Back in June 2014, the agency released two guidance documents on how industry could use social media to market products.
FDA Social Media Policy