Where Is the FDA on Social Media and Science?

March 18, 2015 | 12:37 pm
Gretchen Goldman
Former Contributor

Last week, we released an update to Grading Government Transparency, a report we first released in 2013. The report assesses the media policies and social media policies of 17 government agencies. How much could policy have changed in only two years? A Washington cynic might assume “not much.” But actually, we found significant improvement when it comes to social media at federal agencies.

The FDA is the only agency of the 17 graded which does not have a social media policy in place.

The FDA is the only agency of the 17 graded which does not have a social media policy in place.

Our 2013 report found that about a third of agencies analyzed had no social media policy that we could find; however, the new report finds that all but one of the 17 agencies now have a social media policy in place. Notable improvements include a CDC policy that is now publicly available on its website, and a brand new strong policy developed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that my colleague Celia Wexler wrote about.

The FDA is the only agency in our sample that does not have a social media policy in place (at least one that we could find). Why is that? According to the agency website, a social media policy is under development; however, this is also what the agency said in 2012 when we conducted research for the previous report. Why such a delay?

This is not to say that the FDA isn’t active on social media, because they are. The agency has more than 15 Twitter accounts (including a Spanish language handle and an account from its Chief Health Informatics Officer) and an active blog that features their medical experts, among other social media platforms. With all of this activity, why wouldn’t the agency prioritize developing a social media policy?

As I’ve said, scientists have a right to engage on social media. When they do, it has great benefits for science. For federal agencies, having social-media-savvy scientists is mutually beneficial. Agencies benefit by having knowledgeable ambassadors for their agency speaking to diverse audiences through social media, and scientists are able to speak freely about their work.

The best way to ensure that this relationship works is for a federal agency to have a strong social media policy in place. Such a policy should provide clear guidance to agency employees on how they can use social media platforms in both their official and personal capacities. It should grant agency experts a “personal-views exception” that allows them to name their employer on personal accounts as long as they include a disclaimer clarifying that views are their own. UCS has developed a model social media policy to guide agencies on including important provisions like this one.

But importantly, the FDA doesn’t have to take my word for it. They can look to strong examples set by other federal agencies. The Department of the Interior and the National Institutes of Health, for example, are at the top of the class when it comes to strong federal agency social media policies.

I would like to see the FDA develop a strong social media policy, as it claims it is developing. And I would happy to help the agency get there. The FDA does great science and has great scientists—I’d love to hear more from them on social media. Join me in asking the FDA to develop a social media policy to guide its scientists and other technical experts via this tweet: