WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Democracy Forward filed an investigation request with the U.S. Department of State Inspector General, requesting he investigate whether Ambassador Nikki Haley and others are using their personal social media accounts to post content related to their official duties in an attempt to grow their personal social media presence for personal gain, in violation of State Department rules.
The Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual explicitly prohibits U.S. Ambassadors from using personal accounts to engage in official communications on social media. The rules were established to prevent prominent State Department officials from building a personal online presence that can be taken with them upon leaving office. An expansive social media following can translate not only into added influence, but also pecuniary gain, such as by an Ambassador marketing her or his book.
Recent press accounts have highlighted apparent violations by some of the most high profile Ambassadors appointed by President Trump. For example, Ambassador Nikki Haley repeatedly posts official matters related to her ambassadorial duties on her personal Twitter account. As Democracy Forward uncovered, Ambassador Haley’s added publicity appears to be having a material effect: she has seen a 625% spike in Twitter followers subsequent to her confirmation—from 192K to 1.36M followers. The official United States Mission to the United Nations Twitter account, by comparison, has only 300K followers.
“These rules are designed to ensure that the public receives official information from official channels,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “By using personal accounts to post official news, Ambassador Haley and others appear to be violating both the letter and spirit of ethics guidelines while building a valuable social media asset that could benefit them financially and be used to further their political ambitions.”
Democracy Forward also reviewed the social media profiles of Scott Brown, U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, Callista Gingrich, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S. Ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, each of whom appear to have violated the State Department Foreign Affairs Manual social media rules.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.
December 7, 2018