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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"Social Media and the City" - New Article

The International Municipal Lawyer's Association (IMLA) recently published an article titled "Social Media and the City - Current Issues Facing Municipalities" in the Municipal Lawyer, authored by Damien T. Shores, an attorney in the Texas Attorney General's office.  The article raises many of the legal issues we have discussed on this blog concerning municipal use of social media.  The author also provides practical recommendations for municipalities in their use and control of social media communications.

Records Retention.

The article discusses a municipality's legal obligations regarding record retention and recommends that municipalities establish a policy that treats social media content similar to e-mail messages since most jurisdictions have already enacted records retention policies for e-mails.  For additional information, revisit our previous blog post on this issue. 

Freedom of Information.

The article also advises municipalities to assume that all social media content is subject to Freedom of Information laws, even when content is posted on sites protected by passwords or that have restricted access. 

Recognizing that communications can be forwarded to anyone (or everyone) with the press of a button, the author notes that content created on a password-protected, private computer or mobile device "is about as private as your least private friend."  The author recommends that municipalities provide dedicated cell phones and establish official e-mail addresses to employees and officials so the municipality can maintain some control over these records. 

One question that has come up frequently is whether content posted by a "friend" or "fan" is subject to public disclosure.  The answer will often depend on the nature of the post (does it relate to the transaction of public business?) and whether the information is within the control or possession of the municipality.  The author notes the difficulties that municipalities face in processing requests for disclosure of information that is not created or maintained by the municipality.

Open Meetings.

As we have discussed on this blog, social media can pose unique challenges to municipalities in ensuring compliance with open meetings laws.  The author cautions municipal officials to avoid any electronic deliberations on public business, whether by e-mail or via a social networking site. 

Importance of a Social Media Policy.

The author concludes with advice similar to what we have given on this blog - municipalities should draft and implement a social media policy that addresses the risks involved in this new media.  For tips on what should go into a social media policy, revisit our posts on  9/26 and 9/27.

Post authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink.


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  3. There is a pressing need for new policies, especially in the online world. Social media is only the tip of the iceberg. Other industries like online marketing, online advertising, and seo outsource are some areas where policies are needed, too.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.