Social Media Records in Rhode Island

Rhode Island Public Records Act & Social Media

The preservation and maintenance of social media records in Rhode Island is governed by the Rhode Island Public Records Act. The Act identifies “computer stored data” as a public record, specifically noting that “electronic mail” is included under that definition. As the Act is written broadly to include any material “regardless of physical form or characteristics,” social media records can also be considered public.

Show Rhode Island law text

Excerpt from the Rhode Island Public Records Act

§ 38-2-2  Definitions. 

(4) “Public record” or “public records” shall mean all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data processing records, computer stored data (including electronic mail messages, except specifically for any electronic mail messages of or to elected officials with or relating to those they represent and correspondence of or to elected officials in their official capacities) or other material regardless of physical form or characteristics made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency.

Guidance from Rhode Island State Attorney General

In guidance from the Rhode Island State Attorney General, the Rhode Island Public Records Act is characterized as being designed to foster government accountability. The document identifies that any exceptions to the law are “specifically” and “narrowly” defined, suggesting that the Law should otherwise be enacted broadly. Under this guidance and with the broad definition of ‘public records’ in the Law, social media records in Rhode Island can be considered public.

View the Attorney General's Guide

Excerpt from the Attorney General’s Guide to Open Government in Rhode Island

WHAT IS THE ACCESS TO PUBLIC RECORDS ACT?

The Access to Public Records Act (APRA) is a chapter of the Rhode Island General Laws designed to provide access to public documents so that the public may participate in their government and so that government will be accountable to the people. By providing access to public records, public bodies receive input from citizens concerning the decisions being contemplated. By observing and participating in their government’s decisions, citizens of this State gain increased accountability from their elected and appointed representatives.

Rhode Island’s Access to Public Records Act provides for this input and accountability by assuring that public records are available to the public. The Access to Public Records Act does, however, recognize that certain types of records are not available for public inspection. The exceptions to the Access to Public Records Act are specifically defined to protect the narrow interests served by the exceptions.

WHEN DOES THE ACCESS TO PUBLIC RECORDS ACT APPLY?

The Access to Public Records Act (APRA) ensures the public’s right to access “public records” maintained by “public bodies.” As with most statutes, these terms have a specific legal definition within the APRA.

The APRA defines a “public record” as “all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data processing records, computer stored data (including electronic mail messages, except specifically for any electronic mail messages of or to elected officials with or relating to those they represent and correspondence of or to elected officials in their official capacities) or other material regardless of physical form or characteristics made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency.” R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-2(4). Records maintained pursuant to the Access to Public Records Act shall not be replaced or supplemented with the product of a “real translation reporter.” R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-3.1.

Rhode Island Social Media Records Management in Practice

The State of Rhode Island implemented a comprehensive social media policy to govern information posted to social networks. The policy clearly states that any information posted on social networking sites “may be construed as an official record” and be subject to the Access to Public Records Act litigation and records retention policies. This policy serves as a model for mitigating litigation risk when managing social media records in Rhode Island.

View the State of Road Island's Social Networking Policy

Excerpt from the State of Rhode Island Policy on Social Networking.

7. Statement of Concerns

Information posted on Social Networking Sites by State agencies, vendors, employees, and any individuals with access rights to the state’s networks may be construed as an official record and be subject to R.I. General Laws 38-2-1, et seq., as amended titled “Access to Public Records,” litigation requests, litigation holds and record retention policies.

State flag map of Rhode Island

ArchiveSocial in Rhode Island

If you would like to speak with one of the cities, counties, or agencies in Rhode Island that are currently using ArchiveSocial to meet Rhode Island Public Records Act requirements, or would like to learn more about how your social media can comply with the law, just use the button below to get in touch. 

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