delete buttomHave you ever said something only to immediately wish you could swallow those words before somebody heard them? Maybe it was when you not-so-tactfully commented on your mother-in-law’s cooking. Or, maybe it was accidentally calling you teacher “Mom” (We’ve all done it!). But in today’s social-media-dominated world, those slips no longer fall only on those within earshot. Instead, your mistake can be digitally broadcasted around the world. For those in the public eye, the consequences of such slips are multiplied even further. This might help to explain why 3,400 tweets from public officials were recently recovered by the project Politwoops after being deleted. Although many of these deleted Tweets are just corrections for typos, some of the other deleted Tweets were erased because they were offensive or inflammatory. Importantly, however, these Tweets are public records. As a result, even these deleted Tweets are subject to public records law, highlighting the case for archiving public records from social media.

Even deleted tweets are public records

First off, what is a public record? A public record is essentially any record of the official activity of government officials and agencies that is not confidential. And, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, most states’ public records law likely includes social media. This means that all Tweets, including those mistaken or offensive ones, are subject to the same laws governing the government’s and public officials’ email or physical records.

An important consequence of Tweets being public records is that these Tweets must be archived. They must be preserved and maintained for a certain retention period, and they must be readily available when requested. This includes the deleted Tweets. Some rely on Twitter to maintain all of a public official’s Tweets. However, this is not an effective or compliant strategy. Deleted Tweets will not show up online and may be lost forever. All Tweets must be archived in order to comply with public records regulation, even if they are later deleted from Twitter. So, even if an official deletes a Tweet, the Tweet will remain apart of public record.

Successfully archiving public records

Archiving Tweets, including a public official’s share of the 3,400 deleted Tweets, is impossible to do retroactively and compliantly via Twitter. Of course, archiving social media and staying compliant doesn’t have to become a headache. By adopting a social media archiving tool such as ArchiveSocial, this difficulty is effortlessly resolved. Whether they are deleted or not, Tweets will be archived in compliance with public records regulation. So, while your comment about your mother-in-law’s cooking might be forgotten in due time, a public officials’ Tweet won’t be lost to public record even if deleted.