I’m getting more involved with my workplace’s social media presence (Twitter, Facebook and one potential video–if videos can be social?), and I must say that I’m distressed.

Basically, you would not believe what people are willing to say to a government entity in a public forum.

obvi the greatest new yorker cartoon of the internet age, all credit due

I suspect the following is going to sound a little “hey kid get off my lawn,” but I don’t care. Please, enjoy this short guide to interacting with your government in such a way that won’t get you on a watch list, or make social media unpleasant for those around you, you know, socializing.

  1. The only people who can represent your feelings to government are your elected representatives. You can look them up here. You should not expect a profanity laden @ message on Twitter to some unrelated agency to make it to the halls of power.
  2. However, we unrelated agencies are still part of the government. Are you very very very angry with government, and hoping to kick the bums out with a profanity laden @ message on Twitter? Guess what? We totally own this public Twitter page, and now all of your very very very angry friends will be able to see that YOU interacted with the GOVERNMENT. For shame.
  3. Were you hoping to sway us towards your political persuasion? Pro tip: THOMAS isn’t a real person. Well, not anymore.
  4. Are you offering to cook an elaborate gourmet lunch for THOMAS, and then whisk him away to Paris on an evening flight? THOMAS is very real. In fact, I am THOMAS, and I have my passport ready. On y va!
  5. Most of all, social media is supposed to be conversational without turning into a conversation. Be respectful of the forum. If you have a lot to say, send an email, Ask A Lib, write a letter. If it’s super personal, same. 140 characters can do a lot, but they can’t do it all–don’t force it.

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency does a much better job of this than I do. Check out their Get to Know an Internet Commenter column by Kevin Collier for more of what I mean. If you’re really brave, read the comments section of a national political story at the Washington Post. If you’re suicidal, try one on the Redskins, or parenting.