The Tortoise and the HareLike the Hare from the famous allegory, cities across the nation have bolted to embrace social media.  And, rightfully so. Online conversations facilitate an important connection between citizens and their municipal government. Citizen engagement on social media is second only to that of town hall meetings, and many of these town hall meetings feature social media integration themselves. In short, social media is extremely valuable for city government.

Uncertain public records territory

However, due to the sluggishness of law-making, cities have found themselves in unknown territory. Because cities have been quick to adopt social media, they have significantly outpaced the law just as the Hare did the Tortoise.  Currently, public records laws like the Freedom of Information and Sunshine Acts are explicit only about paper and email communication records. Noticeably absent is largely any mention of social media. As a result, cities such as Dyersville, Iowa, have found themselves in an uncertain situation. They find themselves wondering if social media records are public records like email or paper communications, meaning they must be archived and managed.

Preserve social media records as public records

So, what is the resolution? Must the Hare wait for the Tortoise to catch up, halting the expansion of citizen engagement while public records laws are revised? The short answer: no. The Hare does not have to give up its lead, just as cities do not have to give up social media. States like North Carolina, Texas, and Florida have made it clear that social media records are public records and need to be treated as such. And although regulation seems to move at the speed of the Tortoise, the other 47 states can expect similar regulation.

The result: cities must begin to treat their social media interactions as public records. Although this action is above and beyond many current regulations, these cities can be sure that if they rest as the Hare did, the law will end up overtaking them. Therefore, cities must preserve and archive their social media records due to their pending classification as public records. This way, in a surprise alternate ending to the famous allegory, perhaps the Hare will finally succeed in winning the race, and cities can succeed in truly engaging with their citizens through social media.