Social Media Records in Australia
Public records in Australia are governed by multiple laws, including the Public Records Act 2002 and the Archives Act 1983, which defines a record as, “a document, or an object, in any form (including any electronic form) that is, or has been, kept by reason of: (a) any information or matter that it contains or that can be obtained from it; or (b) its connection with any event, person, circumstance or thing.” A complete list of legislation impacting social media records in Australia can be found here.
Guidance from the National Archives of Australia
The National Archives of Australia has published guidance on applying this legislation to social media records in Australia. According to the National Archives, “records created as a result of using social media are subject to the same business and legislative requirements as records created by other means.” The guidance also explains why these records can not simply be left on the social networks, but must be captured and stored by the agency that created them.
View the guidance from the National Archives
Excerpt from: Social media: Another type of Commonwealth record
Agencies have an obligation to ensure that accurate and sufficient records of government business are created and kept in a useable and accessible form for as long as they are required to support agencies’ business, and to ensure that agencies can account for their actions under administrative law.
The Archives Act 1983 does not define a record by its format. Generally, records created as a result of using social media are subject to the same business and legislative requirements as records created by other means.
The National Archives also recommends that agencies using social media in Australia enact policies that address the record keeping requirements.
View the social media policy guidance from the National Archives
Excerpt from: Your social media policy – what about records?
An agency’s social media policy may cover matters such as security, privacy and copyright that need to be considered in the use of social media. It should also include advice on how to manage social media records.
The level of detail that your agency includes about information and records management responsibilities will vary, but at a minimum it should include contact details for your agency’s records management unit and it should refer to your agency’s records management policy.
Ideally, a social media policy will include:
- a reminder for staff that when using social media, they may be generating Commonwealth records
- a definition of a social media record, for example: ‘social media records can be defined as information which contains evidence of your agency’s business activities’.
- the information and records management responsibilities of content creators, web administrators, ICT staff, communications staff and records management staff
- a statement highlighting the importance of taking ownership for content, and assigning responsibility for managing records
- clearly defined information and records management requirements and protocols for collaborative social media sites which are hosted by one or more agencies
- information and records management practices for social media—such as how records will be captured, and how often
- contact details for the agency or department’s records management unit and a link to the records management policy for more assistance and advice.
Remember to update your agency’s records management policy to include the management of social media records. The content of the two policies must complement one another and be linked to ensure they are updated and maintained together.
Australia Social Media Records Management in Practice
Several Australian States and Territories have issued their own policies on the capture and preservation of social media records in Australia. The following are examples of this State specific guidance:
Public Record Office Victoria: Social Media
Victoria Social Media Policy: Recordkeeping Policy: Social Media
Fact sheet highlighting the key aspects of capturing social media records in Australia: Fact Sheet: Capturing Records of Social Media Posts
Excerpt from: Non-Tasmanian Government Websites
External websites, particularly social media sites such as social networking, wiki and blog sites, usually require regular updates and interaction from both the content provider and the public to be successful. External websites will also have terms and conditions of use that will impact on how the Tasmanian Government can use the site.
When publishing information of non-Tasmanian Government websites, agencies must:
- develop a process to guide how the agency will manage and moderate feedback, comments and formal complaints made via an external site that allows for user comments or interaction (e.g. a social networking site or wiki). Ensure responsible staff understand these moderation expectations.
- ensure the services and information resources provided via non-Tasmanian Government websites are comparable in quality and functionality to those delivered on Tasmanian Government websites or by other means.
- ensure records of government-sourced content and business transactions that occur on external websites are accurately recorded, in accordance with the Archives Act 1983 and the Libraries Act 1984.
Excerpt from: Social Media Guidance for Agencies and Staff
Before utilising social media, agencies should:
• determine their business need and investigate options
• identify traditional communication and community engagement activities that could be enhanced by social media (also consider those without access)
• consult with their communications office and consider all policy aspects
• consult with their risk management team to develop a risk management strategy
• consult with their records management unit to determine what records should be kept to document the business function or activity, how long they should be kept, and how they should eventually be disposed of
• consult with their ICT department to discuss the technical aspects and work out a strategy for records capture
• gain the appropriate level of approval – this may require the production of a business case
• dedicate resources – social media can do more harm than good if it gets neglected.
Excerpt from: Official Use of Social Media Guideline, Queensland Government
Information that provides evidence of business activity or a business decision is a public record. The Public Records Act 2002 covers all public records irrespective of the technology or medium used to generate, capture, manage, preserve and access those records. Records created through the use of social media should be captured and managed in accordance with the Public Records Act 2002 and the associated recordkeeping Information Standards (Information Standard 40: Recordkeeping and Information Standard 31: Retention and Disposal of Public Records).
Remember that a public record may exist in any format, including emails, text messages and other digital forms. Different agencies use different recordkeeping systems and processes. In addition, different projects or initiatives may require more detailed recordkeeping controls depending on the risk and/or visibility of the initiatives, among other factors. Therefore, consideration should be given to what records need to be kept of the business being transacted, and how these records will be managed as part of your agency’s broader recordkeeping framework when planning the use of social media.
Common information about the records you are creating that may need to be captured includes:
date of discussion or business activity
details of your name and other stakeholders involved
key discussion points
details of instructions or advice provided
approvals, decisions and recommendations made.
Consult with your records management area to establish the best process for your department to capture and manage records created through social media applications. Further advice on managing records is available from Queensland State Archives at www.archives.qld.gov.au.