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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Is Content Posted to a Social Media Site a Public Record that Must be Retained?

Most states have record retention laws that require local governments to preserve and retain public records unless permission is granted for destruction of a particular record or category of records.  With more local governments establishing a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and other popular sites, questions have arisen as to whether these sites, and content posted on these sites, are considered "records" that must be retained under state record retention laws.  The Attorney General in at least one state (Florida) has issued an opinion that social media content is a public record that must be retained.  The New York State Archives has issued a preliminary opinion that social media content is likely to be subject to state record retention laws and should be preserved.  The Secretary of State for the State of Washington has published guidelines to assist local governments in determining whether social media content is a public record subject to preservation.  It is likely that other states will follow. 

In Illinois, there are no current policies in place to govern the retention or preservation of local government social media content.  The Illinois Local Records Management Services recently announced that it was in the process of drafting a social media retention policy.  Because it is expected to take some time before a final policy is issued, it is recommended that local governments retain, capture, or archive electronic publications and records to the extent possible.  Certain records that link to the local government's web page are in and of themselves original documents and should be archived according to current record retention requirements.  For example, ordinances and minutes of meetings that are typically posted on a web site as a convenience to the public are also available as a paper record.  Since the web-linked version is not the original source of these documents, it should not need to be archived.  However, content that is originally created on a social media site such as Facebook or Twitter that does not exist in any other form may need to be captured and archived until permission is obtained to destroy the record. 


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