The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found that President Trump cannot block Twitter users from his @realdonaldtrump account. While the appellate case may not seem to have a direct impact on career federal employees, it could lay the foundation for a new set of internet rules. Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, partner at the Federal Practice Group, says that the case hinged on the difference between public and private accounts, and that makes all the difference.
“If you have a federal government employee and in their official capacity they are working in the public affairs office or if they manage a social media account for a particular government agency, they need to be particularly careful about the communications that they attempt to engage in, in their private lives,” Pitts-Wiley said. “As to rules of the road, what I would recommend to federal employees, if they want to engage in expressive activity outside of their official duties, is to ensure that whatever medium they are using, treat it like it is a public account. Do not pretend that any of these accounts are private. Instead you should ensure that there’s no indicia, that you work for the federal government. Certainly, do not use any federal government instrumentalities, and make sure you are not talking about your official duties in any of your posts. If you take those particular steps to heart, I think you will be able to steer clear losing the first amendment protection that you have as a federal government employee in your private life.”