Montana Public Records Law & Social Media
Social media records in Montana are subject to the Montana Public Records Act (Montana Code Annotated, Title 2, Chapter 6). This law defines records as, “any paper, correspondence, form, book, photograph, microfilm, magnetic tape, computer storage media, map, drawing, or other document, including copies of the record required by law to be kept as part of the official record, regardless of physical form or characteristics…” This definition covers posts made by government entities on social media.
View Act overview text
Excerpt from: “Montana Code Annotated 2019; Title 2, Chapter 6″ prepared by the Montana Legislature
(1) (a) “Public records” includes:
(i) any paper, correspondence, form, book, photograph, microfilm, magnetic tape, computer storage media, map, drawing, or other document, including copies of the record required by law to be kept as part of the official record, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that:
(A) has been made or received by a state agency to document the transaction of official business;
(B) is a public writing of a state agency pursuant to 2-6-101(2)(a); and
(C) is designated by the state records committee for retention pursuant to this part; and
(ii) all other records or documents required by law to be filed with or kept by any agency of the state of Montana.
(b) The term includes electronic mail sent or received in connection with the transaction of official business.
Montana Social Media Records Guidance from the Montana Operations Manual
The Montana Operations Manual (MOM) contains policies, procedures, and standards applicable to the operations of Montana state government. This online resource includes “Guidelines for Social Media Use” which recognizes the importance of social media to government and clearly states that, “[u]nder Montana law, public records include records in electronic form (§ 2-6-110, MCA). Therefore, communication to or from state personnel through Social Media is likely presumed to be a public record.”
View Guide text
Excerpt from “Guidelines for Social Media Use” Montana Operations Manual
The State recognizes that the internet provides unique avenues to participate in discussions and share information with customers and the public. Social Media in particular offer ways to communicate with a broad range of individuals and groups who are using the internet rather than traditional forms of media for communicating and learning.
VII. PUBLIC RECORDS
Under Montana law, public records include records in electronic form (§ 2-6-110, MCA). Therefore, communication to or from state personnel through Social Media is likely presumed to be a public record. If a communication is a public record, then the Secretary of State’s General Records Retention Schedules provide guidance regarding how long certain types of state government records must be kept. The Secretary of State’s website at http://sos.mt.gov/Records/index.asp provides information regarding public records and records retention schedules for public records.
A public record is subject to disclosure upon citizen request. See §2-6-102, MCA. Since citizens using state government Social Media sites may be unaware of public record laws, an agency using Social Media should post a statement on the social networking site indicating that communications on the site are presumed to be public records subject to disclosure to third parties.
Montana Social Media Records Policy in Practice
Many cities and counties already have policies in place that clearly state that social media records in Montana are governed by the Montana Public Records Act. The City of Great Falls notes that, “like e-mail, posts to social media sites may constitute agency legal records.”
Excerpt from the City of Great Falls Social Media Disclaimer
Further, please be advised that you participate at your own risk, taking personal responsibility for comments, username and any information provided. Content of social media sites is an effective and accepted form of communication, but should not be construed as private and the posting of comments on social media sites creates a transitory record. These types of records are not official records, however like e-mail, posts to social media sites may constitute agency legal records.The City of Great Falls will comply with current Montana laws and comply with the laws and guidelines for Montana Records Management regarding the retention of social media content.