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
- When in doubt, a meeting or record of a public body should be opened to the public.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Each public body must have a written Sunshine Law policy and a custodian of records whose name is available to the public upon request.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Missouri Social Media Records Management in Practice
In 2018, the City of Kansas City, MO adopted an official social media policy that applies to all City of Kansas City, MO social media sites operated by departments or on behalf of the City. This policy outlines the usefulness os social media for city agencies, while also clearly stating that social media sites are subject to public records laws and retention laws in Kansas City and the State of Missouri.
View the City of Kansas City, MO's Social Media Policy
Excerpt from City of Kansas, City, MO Social Media Policy approved by the City Manager
a. City of Kansas, City, Mo., social media sites are subject to State of Missouri public records laws as well as state retention law and relevant City of Kansas City, Mo., records retention policy.
b. Departments that create social media sites are responsible for the maintenance of the site and associated records and shall respond completely and accurately to public records requests for public records associated with their social media site and activity. (See Code of Ordinances section 2-115 for specific information regarding open meetings and records).