Shortly after Civil Beat published an article illustrating the use of Facebook by Hawaii state senators, we heard directly from one of them.

“Thanks for writing the article,” Kauai Democrat Ron Kouchi emailed Sept. 19. “I didn’t even know that was posted in my profile. It took me a while to try and find out how to remove it. I am glad your article helped me catch it.”

Kouchi had listed the following under Facebook “Activities and Interests”:

“Let’s join forces as Christians and start a Jesus Christ revival! Press like if Jesus is your Savior!!!”

“When life hands you lemons………… DEMAND Tequila and Salt!!!!!!”

A recent check of Kouchi’s account revealed lots of photos with constituents and government luminaries, and an item about the 100th Battalion Memorial Service at Hanapepe Veteran’s Cemetery.

In other words, job-related activity. No tequila and little mention of religion.

Although Kouchi might have benefitted from them, there are no formal regulations and rules regarding social media use by Hawaii legislators.

Senate Policy In Works

Not yet, anyway.

Caroline Julian, assistant director of Senate Communications, said the 25-member Senate is working on a social media policy during the interim.

“It still needs to be adopted by the Senate members,” she said in an email. “Once it’s finalized and made official, we can provide you with a copy of the document.”

The Senate does have a Twitter usage policy, which applies to real-time tweets from committee hearings.

But the policy is pretty elementary — “The ‘tweets’ shall be limited to the following information (character limit = 140).”

The 51-member Hawaii House of Representatives doesn’t have a policy for lawmakers, either, although it does have a social media policy for House employees, according to Georgette Deemer, House director of communications.

That’s right — a policy for House employees (more on that later), but not lawmakers themselves.

In fact, the words “social media,” “Twitter,” “Facebook,” “Internet,” “Web” and “computer” are nowhere to be found in the Rules of the Senate or in the Rules of the House, although both sets of rules have sections on decorum and conduct.

And yet, most state senators and representatives are on Facebook and use their accounts to keep friends and followers up to speed on legislative business. Many use Twitter, too. Example:

• Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria (@SenBGaluteria, 651 followers). April 26: “As we head into the last week of Conference of the 2011 legislative session, you can see the progress here:”

Don’t Tweet When Angry

Despite the lack for formal guidelines, Hawaii is a state whose legislature uses social media tools more than most others. In addition to Twitter and Facebook, those tools includes blogs, Flickr and YouTube.

Blog.govtwit reports the development of more government social media sites as use of social media expands.

Though it does not apply to lawmakers, the three-page social media policy for Hawaii House employees offers tips that might be useful for the boss.

As the guide notes, “There remains a public image that is being presented and any posting can potentially be discovered by others and possibly broadcast to millions.”

Among the House recommendations are the following:

• Do not disclose any confidential or proprietary information. This could subject you or the House to liability.

• Business promotion, endorsement of products, marketing or any other business enterprise is prohibited.

• Don’t tweet or post when you are angry or in a bad mood. You may say something you’ll regret.

Guidelines Elsewhere

The National Conference of State Legislatures has compiled examples of policies related to legislative use of social media and social networking. But the list is limited.

That’s because this is new territory for many governments, NCSL says. For example, how do public records laws interact with social media sites? How do legislatures handle offensive material posted by users?

NCSL reports that there are also concerns about “employee productivity, threats from viruses or spyware” and “other potential abuses or liability exposure.”

But, some states are making headway in developing policy, as seen in this example from the Arizona House of Representatives caucus website policy:

Content that specifically solicits political support for the sender or any other person or political party, or solicits a vote or financial assistance for any candidate for any political office is prohibited.

Here at home, the Campaign Spending Commission encourages lawmakers and those running for office to contact them for social media advice. It also posts this brief guide on its website. Excerpt:

No personal attacks of any kind, obscenities, profanity, abusive, hateful, defamatory, explicit or racially derogatory language towards any person or organization are allowed.

The State Ethics Commission does not issue any social media guidelines. A call to the Office of Elections was not immediately returned, but a cursory search of its website did not reveal any guidelines.

The Office of Information Practices earlier this year asked for public input on how to update the state’s open records law to take into account platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

As Civil Beat reported in June, OIP Director Cheryl Kakazu Park said, “We recognize that there’s all this new technology and it’s being more widely used by people. So what should we do about it? We haven’t changed the law virtually since it was enacted (in 1988).”

About the Author