We often talk about social media in the context of large consumer brands and marketing agencies, but perhaps one of the most interesting applications of social media is in — believe it or not — the government. It actually makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Government has a responsibility to connect with its citizens and is most effective when communication can occur freely. In place of unidirectional printed newsletters and press conferences, why not engage citizens through Facebook and YouTube? One reason to hesitate is the issue of social media public records, and maintaining compliance with FOIA laws.

Government agencies have actually done a fairly impressive job of embracing social channels. It can be difficult to find a federal, state, or local agency these days without some type of social media presence. A recent study shows that 92% of federal employees are on social networks and 74% now use social media at work. The most popular social networks in the public sector appear to be Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Tweets = social media public records?

Social media usage by the government obviously raises new issues. One of the most important is the issue of social media public records. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and laws in each state, we as citizens are entitled to a vast amount of government information and records. These records generally include anything related to the business of a public agency including the agency’s electronic communication. So does this mean a tweet is a public record? How about comments on a public agency’s Facebook post? What about a YouTube video?

Although each state law seems to define the issue slightly differently, the answer is a resounding yes: the activity of government-related social media accounts must be treated as public record. Here are examples from a few states:

Oregon Public Records Laws

“Like other forms of communication, social media posts are public records. That means they require you to retain them. They are also covered by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Oregon Constitution. Agencies that use social media must understand that they will need to retain content and decide whether to moderate comments that appear on their sites.”

North Carolina Public Records Laws

“Communication through local government-related social media is considered a public record under G.S. 132 and will be managed as such.”

Texas Public Records Laws

“Social media sites may contain communications sent to or received by state employees, and such communications are therefore public records subject to State Records Retention requirements. These retention requirements apply regardless of the form of the record (digital text, photos, audio, or video, for example).”

Social media records management

Now that we’ve established that social media use by a government agency constitutes public record, we must consider a far more difficult question: how can public agencies reasonably capture and archive this information so that it can be made available as public record.  The reality is that records management is a complex topic and one that many public agencies have cited as a key concern. In fact, the Federal Records Council (FRC) specifically identified Web 2.0 records management as a “top three” issue for 2011.

Various agencies seem to be grappling with the issue in different ways. For examples, the state of North Carolina is having some success using existing webpage archiving technology. On the other hand, many agencies are simply copying and pasting social media content into a Word document stored on a shared drive.

At ArchiveSocial, we realized that there must be a better way to accurately capture and preserve records. We’re working on technology that simplifies social media record management for organizations of all shapes and sizes: from highly-regulated financial firms to public agencies striving to comply with social media public records laws. Our social media archiving technology automatically captures content in its most native form and stores the data in a forensically sound archive.  Additionally, we provide an elegant — yet powerful — user interface to view and instantly locate records when needed.

We are launching soon and would love to work closely with public agencies who need help with social media record-keeping.

Learn more about our social media archiving solution and feel free to contact us for more information.