Yes, No, Maybe So: Is it wrong to use photos funded by the state on your personal social media accounts?

AuthorQuiner, Mark
PositionETHICS 101

The line between what is permissible to post on social media and what is not is often blurred these days. Take the case involving Washington Representative Melanie Stambaugh (R) and the Washington State Legislative Ethics Board. Stambaugh, who is 27 and the state's youngest legislator, was accused of posting legislative pictures and videos of herself at work in the Legislature on her Facebook page, which also contained some campaign material. Washington ethics rules prohibit the use of state resources to promote campaigns.

In Washington's first legislative ethics hearing in 22 years, the board, citing its zero tolerance policy, found Stambaugh committed 44 violations of the rules by improperly using videos and photos produced by legislative staff. It fined her $5,000 (the maximum for one violation).

The state's ethics rules say that lawmakers cannot embed state-funded materials on websites they use for any kind of campaign activity. They may, however, post a link that takes visitors to a separate site to view such items.

Stambaugh said she used the resources to communicate with her constituents, and that her Facebook page is not specifically a campaign page. She argued that the videos and photos are public records available on publicly accessible websites like YouTube and Flickr. She also demonstrated how certain social media sites, like Twitter's mobile phone platform, don't let you link to a video without first embedding it.

As a general principle, all states prohibit legislators from using taxpayer-funded resources for personal benefit, including campaigning, one reason being the unfair advantage incumbents could gain by using pictures and videos of their legislative work during re-election campaigns.

The same holds true at the federal level. When a president is running for re-election, for example, his...

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