Social Media Records in Missouri

Missouri Public Records Law & Social Media

Social media records in Missouri are governed by two different chapters in the Missouri Revised Statutes. In Chapter 109, Public and Business Records, records are defined as any, “document, book, paper, photograph, map, sound recording, or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics.” This definition includes electronic records.

View 109.210 text

(5) “Record”, document, book, paper, photograph, map, sound recording or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or in connection with the transaction of official business.

The second statute, also known as the Missouri Sunshine Law, has its foundations in Chapter 610 of the Missouri Revised Statutes: Governmental Bodies and Records. As the Missouri Attorney General describes it, “Missouri’s Sunshine Law is the embodiment of Missouri’s commitment to openness in government.” He also notes that, “the Sunshine Law applies to all records, regardless of what form they are kept in, and to all meetings, regardless of the manner in which they are held.”

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Sunshine Law: Top 10 Things to Know

  1. When in doubt, a meeting or record of a public body should be opened to the public.
  2. The Sunshine Law applies to all records, regardless of what form they are kept in, and to all meetings, regardless of the manner in which they are held.
  3. The Sunshine Law allows a public body to close meetings and records to the public in some limited circumstances, but it almost never requires a public body to do so.
  4. A public body generally must give at least 24 hours’ public notice before holding a meeting. If the meeting will be closed to the public, the notice must state the specific provision of the law that allows the meeting to be closed.
  5. Each public body must have a written Sunshine Law policy and a custodian of records whose name is available to the public upon request.
  6. The Sunshine Law requires a custodian of records to respond to a records request as soon as possible but no later than three business days after the custodian receives it.
  7. The Sunshine Law deals with whether a public body’s records must be open to the public, but it generally does not state what records the body must keep or for how long. A body cannot, however, avoid a records request by destroying records after it receives a request for those records.
  8. The Sunshine Law requires a public body to grant access to open records it already has, but it does not require a public body to create new records in response to a request for information.
  9. When responding to a request for copies of its records, the Sunshine Law limits how much a public body can charge for copying and research costs.
  10. There are special laws and rules that govern access to law enforcement and judicial records.

Guidelines from the Secretary of State on Social Media as Public Records

The Missouri Secretary of State has issued guidelines for social media that clearly indicate that content on social media sites may be considered public record, and that each agency using social media is responsible for keeping these records according to the appropriate retention schedules. The Secretary of State guidelines also indicate that agencies using social media can not rely on the social networks to maintain records, but are responsible for exporting or capturing social media records themselves.

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Records Retention and Sunshine Requests

Agencies should not rely on social media sites to retain their documents, as that responsibility lies with the agency. Posts, comments, polls, photographs and other content may be considered records. Agencies should identify staff whose responsibility it is to ensure these records are exported from the social media site or captured in some other way.

Content on social media sites is also subject to 610 RSMo., more commonly known as the Sunshine Law. Government records on a non-government owned server are subject to a Sunshine request, and legal discovery. Social media companies, however, are not obligated to respond to agency requests – only to what is agreed upon in the Terms of Use or Terms of Service. For this reason, it is important to monitor social media activity and capture all records.

Retention periods for records can vary from one day to permanent/transfer to the Missouri State Archives. The retention time will depend on the content of the record. If an agency is unsure how long a record needs to be retained state agencies should refer to the Missouri General Retention Schedule, their Agency Records Disposition Schedule or contact the Division of Records Management. Local agencies should refer to their Records Retention Schedules or contact the Local Records Division. Some social media sites give users the ability to export their information, while others require the use of third party tools. The responsibility to maintain the records resides with the agency, not the social media company.

If the site shuts down, crashes, or the vendor arbitrarily changes the Terms of Use, those potential records could be at risk, and without adequate preparation, there is nothing the agency can do to protect itself. Agencies must have a plan and process in place for how records will be saved.

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ArchiveSocial in Missouri

If you would like to speak with one of the cities, counties, or agencies in Missouri that are currently using ArchiveSocial to meet Missouri’s Public Records Laws, please contact the Sales Team and we’ll put you in touch.

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