Agency sets policies and limits on how personnel can use Facebook, Twitter, and other online sites to communicate with veterans and other stakeholders.

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributor

August 16, 2011

2 Min Read

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The Department of Veterans Affairs has released a policy mandating how its personnel should use social media to collaborate and share information.

The move comes not long after the Government Accountability Office, the federal watchdog agency, criticized agencies and departments for their lack of social media policies even as they increasingly are using the technology.

To be fair, however, some agencies already have instituted policies, and the VA--which has taken great strides lately to embrace emerging technologies and improve how it uses IT--is the latest to join them.

The department's policy encourages growing adoption of social media by its employees but provides boundaries for its use while still allowing for open communication with veterans and other stakeholders, according to the VA.

"This isn't about using social media because it's cool or because it's a fad," said VA Director of Online Communications Brandon Friedman, in a statement about the new policy. "It's about getting the right information to the right Veteran at the right time. This policy sets us on a path toward changing how we talk and listen to Vets."

Specifically, the 21-page directive--which in official terms is called "VA Directive 6515"--restricts access to social media to employees "who have a need to know for the performance of their professional duties."

It also sets policies for the security and privacy of information shared via social media sites. For example, the directive mandates that all steps be taken to "ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information."

Technology requirements needed for the VA to comply with this policy includes system redundancy, electronic backups, secure data storage, as well as "proper and timely data disposal and media sanitization," according to the directive.

Data presented via Web-based social media tools also must be available in a format based on open standards so people can re-use or analyze the data for their own purposes, according to the policy.

The directive also covers a host of other considerations for using social media, such as the various roles officials play in implementing social media policy, the type of language that can be used on the sites, and the purpose of the VA's participation in the technology.

The VA first began using social media in 2009. The department currently has more than 100 Facebook pages, more than 50 Twitter feeds, two blogs, a YouTube channel, and a Flickr page. If you combine its pages, the VA has more than 293,000 fans on Facebook; the department's main page reaches more than 138,000.

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