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Agencies need to do a better job of explaining to employees how to use social media sites without compromising personal information or data associated with their jobs, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

While the report focused on how agencies are leveraging Twitter, Facebook and similar platforms to improve operations and transparency as President Obama urged them to do in January 2009, it also offers some warnings for employees.

Social media has the potential to better include citizens in the governing process and improve agency missions, but "use of these services may also pose risks that government records and sensitive information, including personally identifiable information, is not properly managed or protected," GAO wrote.

Noting that government computers have been targeted by "persistent, pervasive, and aggressive threats and that, as a result, personal and agency information needs to be safeguarded from security threats," auditors concluded that agencies should provide employees with guidance on how to use social media websites properly and how to handle information in the context of social media.

"The rapid development of social media technologies makes it challenging to keep up with the constantly evolving threats deployed against them and raises the risks associated with government participation in such technologies" GAO reported.

Auditors also are concerned about maintaining accurate federal records as required by law. They referenced a 2010 report by the National Archives and Records Administration that found agency managers were not only overwhelmed by the speed at which employees were adopting social media technologies, but also by the fact that employees were ignoring or ignorant of records management concerns.

"Until agencies ensure that records management processes and policies and recordkeeping roles and responsibilities are articulated within social media policies, officials responsible for creating and administering content on agency social media sites may not be making appropriate determinations about social media records," GAO said.

Wired Workplace is a daily look at issues facing the federal information technology workforce. It is published on Nextgov.com. Click here to read the latest entries.

 

Katherine is deputy editor of Government Executive Media Group, a division of Atlantic Media, where she oversees editorial coverage for GovExec.com and Government Executive magazine. She previously was executive editor of Nextgov.

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