Session 305: Managing Social Media as Official Records

Session 305: Managing Social Media as Official Records
Guest author Eira Tansey


Lorianne Ouderkirk of the Utah State Archives and Records Service discussed the educational and operational challenges of applying records management guidelines to social media. She noted that people now expect to be able to communicate with government through social media, which has led to a significant rise of governmental entities using various social media channels. These can be hard to keep track of, although in Utah there is an excellent dashboard which lists all the various state agency social media channels. The Utah State Archives has situated education on social media records around the following factors:

  • Risk
  • Identifying records
  • Applying retention

In addition, they have issued a draft document titled Preliminary Guidance on Government Use of Social Media. These guidelines were adapted from the New York State Archive’s guidelines. Ouderkirk noted that in Utah, most records fall under existing records schedules under Correspondence, Publication, Core Function, etc. She noted that over the course of training, most attendees wanted information on agency guidelines, but after a follow-up, many found they did not have time to implement what was learned in records training.

The next speaker was Geof Huth of the New York State Archives, who discussed the risk aspects of agency social media use. He showed some fairly amusing (and redacted!) screenshots of social media activity from state agency and political offices. It is not unusual for constituents to leave vulgar and/or highly-politicized rhetoric on social media channels. Although not all social media may constitute a record, many social media postings, pictures, and status updates do constitute a record. Huth noted that not only does government use of social media tell us how government functions, but also about how government wants to be seen.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks with social media is that there is no such thing as true local control, because the use of social media necessarily involves using a third-party application. Social media use has the potential to be inefficient, increase an agency’s vulnerability to cyber attacks, risk of public embarrassment, and an inability to produce records if called upon to do so quickly. Huth stressed that when possible, it’s important for agencies to take control of their data, presumably via some form of export to local systems and active management.

Huth stressed the necessity of the following policies and procedures:

  • Determining content creation issues — do all postings require approval by an agency head or delegate before going public?
  • Appropriate use — who at an agency gets to create social media postings?
  • Security — who has the password? How will risks be monitored?

Determining “what is a record” can be difficult among any group of records, but applying records definitions to social media presents its own set of challenges. Some of the options are to either treat a social media channel/site as one entire record, or examine content of each record to determine retention/disposition.

When considering capture of social media records, the following questions must be considered:

  • Should records be retained for a long or short time period?
  • How frequently should records be captured?
  • Quantity — do you need everything or simply a sample?
  • What should be done if it turns out the popularity of a social media channel is short lived?
  • Is it possible to extract only the data you need?

Huth reminded us that “capture is not preservation,” and agencies may want to consider specialized tools — there are some open access tools for web harvesting and social media capture (for example, Heritrix and Social Feed Manager , as well as commercial tools such as ArchiveSocial and RegEd.

The final speaker of the panel was Darren Shulman, attorney for the city of Delaware (Ohio), on implementing a social media plan. Full disclosure, I have the privilege to serve with Darren on the Ohio Electronic Records Committee. Darren walked us through creating a social media plan, which can help guide records-related decision making. Ideally a plan should be created before a social media channel is adopted. A social media plan can help with the following issues:

  • Security — who has the password? This is important information in case of staff turnover or cyberattack.
  • Roles and responsibilities — defining  the roles of records management, business units, legal, and IT
  • Moderation and participation — how will responses be monitored?

Darren noted the following distinctions between things an agency posts, versus things other people post:

With things you post:

  • Is it a record, or a copy of something that was originally posted elsewhere?
  • If it is a record, how will you maintain it?

With things other people post:

  • Are comments a public record?
  • How to treat vulgar comments? There are a few options:
    • Delete
    • Leave up, with a visible disclaimer
    • Capture for internal records and then delete from public view (this was a suggestion from the audience, but may pose issues unless you have a posted policy somewhere)
  • May constituents use social media channels as a way to make a report or file a complaint?

If anyone would like to download the social media plan, you can find the template here.

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