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It is something of an understatement to say that the U.S. tax code is both very big and very complex, but did you know that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service believes that to be so true that it actually prohibits its employees from providing guidance on tax code matters via social media, the preferred modern communication method of millions of Americans?
Zach Noble of FCW tells the story of the apparent Disappearance of TaxmanKeith:
He was something of a legend on r/personalfinance and other financial communities on the social network Reddit, posting IRS forms and basic guidance in response to thousands upon thousands of taxpayer questions.
But a month ago, TaxmanKeith went silent, and recently he vanished altogether.
Are IRS rules to blame?
It’s ironic, but IRS social media guidelines essentially instruct most employees not to offer anyone guidance on the complex tax code – precisely because the tax code is too complex for an IRS employee to be sure they’re giving out good information.
Noble goes on to describe TaxmanKeith as someone who would be something of an anomaly at the IRS, someone who cares enough about helping regular Americans with their taxes that he did so on his own time, primarily through the social media site Reddit.
Noble describes the IRS’s official level of social media engagement with regular Americans:
By the end of the 2015 tax season, the agency was answering only 40 percent of taxpayer phone calls, and while the IRS has a slew of official social media accounts, those tend to have small audiences and direct engagement with taxpayers is non-existent.
The most recent IRS videos on YouTube average a lackluster 20-odd views per day, and many of the posts on the agency’s Tumblr page have zero “likes.”
On Twitter, the IRS has more than 65,000 followers, but the account does not respond to taxpayer tweets because “The IRS uses social media to share public information, not to answer personal tax or account questions.”
For most individual IRS employees, offering anything resembling tax advice on social media is strictly verboten, IRS spokesmen told FCW.
In fact, Noble quotes an IRS spokesman as saying:
“The tax code is enormously complex. No one person [at the IRS] knows all of it.”
Nor does the IRS seem eager to help regular Americans understand it.