Illinois Freedom of Information Act & Social Media
Social media records in Illinois are governed by the Freedom of Information Act. The law defines public records as information and communications sent or received by public agencies “regardless of physical form or characteristics.”
View Law text
(5 ILCS 140/1) (from Ch. 116, par. 201)
Sec. 1. Pursuant to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of government, it is declared to be the public policy of the State of Illinois that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them as public officials and public employees consistent with the terms of this Act. Such access is necessary to enable the people to fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgments and monitoring government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest.
(c) “Public records” means all records, reports, forms, writings, letters, memoranda, books, papers, maps, photographs, microfilms, cards, tapes, recordings, electronic data processing records, electronic communications, recorded information and all other documentary materials pertaining to the transaction of public business, regardless of physical form or characteristics, having been prepared by or for, or having been or being used by, received by, in the possession of, or under the control of any public body.
Guidance on Social Media Records in Illinois from the Secretary of State
In May 2015, the Illinois Secretary of State’s office released specific guidance for government agencies using social media to ensure compliance with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. This publication explains when social media posts are considered records and offers guidance on retention, including a caution against relying on the social networks for record keeping.
View SoS guidance
1. Are social media posts considered public records?
Social media posts are considered public records if:
• Posts are made on an official public agency account or on a private account that is being used to distribute information for that agency to the public. Not included are private accounts of public employees that are not used as part of their job. If a private account is used to conduct government business, then it becomes public and is subject to FOIA and the Local Records Act.
• The content being posted is unique. Agencies do not need to preserve redundant content in all of its forms. For example, if the same event announcement is put out via both a press release and a social media post, then only one copy must be kept. Usually agencies will find it simpler to retain the “traditional” version, and this is acceptable. However, if the content of the two versions differs significantly, they should be considered unique records and both be retained.
Illinois Social Media Records Management in Practice
The Peoria County Sheriff’s Office offers a great example of a comprehensive social media policy that clearly outlines the impact of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act on social media records.
View Peoria's Social Media Policy
Excerpt from: Peoria County Sheriff’s Office: Social Media Policy (for complete policy, please click the link)
As a communications tool, the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office shall utilize its Facebook Page and Twitter account to raise awareness among Peoria County and neighboring residents and visitors, community partners, and interested fans and followers of public safety news and information that affects the Peoria County area.
Social media sites grant the PCSO an additional opportunity to share its public safety messages with the general public. The PCSO shall utilize its Facebook Page and Twitter account to post news releases, photos, videos, and important public safety information, including but not limited to Amber Alerts, information about wanted criminals, road closures, power outages, and other emergency announcements.
Whenever possible, the PCSO’s social media sites shall comply with all applicable Peoria County Sheriff’s Office and County of Peoria policies and procedures, including section III-13B Political Activity of the County of Peoria Personnel Policies.
Postings on the PCSO’s social media sites are public records of the County of Peoria and may be subject to disclosure under the State of Illinois’ Freedom on Information Act.