This is the final post of a multi-part recap of the 2015 e-Records Conference. Presentation materials from the e-Records Conference are available on the e-Records 2015 website.
In this day and age, the idea of a world without social media is unimaginable, what with the seamless way the technology allows people to connect with their friends and family and also with the companies and businesses they choose to frequent. On the other hand, for many public sector employees the thought of initiating social media accounts on behalf of their agency is scary for reasons of security, privacy, and perception. Despite these concerns, social media for public agencies creates opportunities to reach out and connect with the public in a way that meets them where they are instead of making the public come to the agency. Anil Chawla of ArchiveSocial and Dustin Haisler of e.Republic concluded the 2015 e-Records Conference with their presentation on this topic, “What Every Records Manager Must Know About Social Media”.
Setting the Stage
Chawla started the presentation with some eye-opening statements regarding social media and the public. Social media is everywhere. It has expanded exponentially and it’s in everything we use, and with that comes challenges; namely, how do we control that information? On top of social media being everywhere, everybody is social and everyone is connected, across varied age groups. The growth of social media did not happen in a bubble and social media is not going away due to certain trends in the world. These include:
- Hyper connectivity (Namely WiFi),
- Critical mass (The majority is connected and using the Internet (82%+)),
- Energy (How people use social media is changing and previous barriers to access no longer exist), and
- Changes in behavior (The ability to connect instantaneously is now the status quo from the private sector having bled over into the public sector).
Due to these trends, citizens are doing two things. One, they are increasingly creating data in online networks that public agencies do not host nor control, and two, they expect to be able to interact with the public sector the same way as they can the private sector. The question this raises is: how does this impact public records?
Social Media in the Public Sector
At this point in the presentation, Haisler jumped in to discuss public information, something he had experience with as the CIO of Manor, Texas. The aspect of social media accounts that worries many agencies is managing public records.
According to the Texas Public Information Act, public records can exist in forms beyond paper and emails, including internet postings. So that must mean all of an agencies’ social media must be records, every like and comment, right? Don’t despair yet, because all social media is not automatically a record. In fact, most social media posts generated by the government are considered convenience copies because the record copy exists and is retained in a different format or system, e.g. photographs, press releases, or a calendar of events. But this doesn’t mean an agency should play fast and loose with their social media information. All the data is technically out of your control; when it is created and stored via social media it has the potential to be deleted at any time without warning. Haisler makes the point that agencies need to capture their social media in order to curate and review for potential records; better to be safe than sorry.
Social Media as Records
Some examples of social media records are customer service and citizen feedback where someone may visit a government agency’s Facebook page to air their grievances and complain. These might not present as obvious records, but they cannot be ignored. Government services exist to serve the citizen and the citizen could reach out using traditional means of a letter to the office, or in a more convenient comment to a Facebook page in which they expect to achieve the same end.
Another example of social media records are public safety and emergency responses in the form of Facebook updates or a quick tweet sent in order to get in front of news or potential issues. Social media information has also been used as primary sources in news articles.
Public record act requests can even occur via social media! For example, a Twitter user tweeted the Seattle Police Department for their archive of tweets for each beat. In the form of a tweet, it could be easy to take the message as what it is, one tweet of millions, but it’s also a public information request.
Think of the requests agencies already receive with phrases like:
“Any and all documents that relate to…”
“All reports of the incident…”
“All notifications of the street closure…”
“All emails and communications between…”
If an agency cannot respond to these requests and produce the information, it can be a transparency risk.
What is the solution?
While the magnitude and ephemeral quality of social media records presents an issue of management and the best way to ensure social media records are retained is to capture them quickly and often (the closer to real time the better), the solution is not to simply take a screenshot of each post. Metadata matters and thorough and complete metadata of social media records are not captured via simply a screenshot.
If an agency is not able to maintain the metadata of an original social media record, it can cost them in litigation. Haisler used the example of O’Neill v. City of Shoreline, a case that settled in 2013 after the lawsuit requested metadata about who sent an email and it could not be produced. It cost the city $538,555 and as a result of the case, the Washington Supreme Court ruled metadata could be subject to disclosure under the state’s Public Records Act. To paint a picture of the amount of metadata created and stored behind the scenes of even the smallest social media record, a tweet of 126 characters contains over 2,300 characters of metadata. Whether it is the metadata of an email or the metadata of a tweet, the way social media records are captured matters.
Whatever the solution to capturing and managing social media records in a reliable way may be, the four most important factors should be:
Social media is something that public agencies need to embrace in order to better serve their customers and the public, but the responsibility of managing the information and records social media creates is not a records manager’s problem alone. Identify stakeholders in your agency, such as those in Communications, and have a conversation about public records. In fact, those in Communications will have more and better access to social media data and information than IT, and they can help in driving the budget for an archive if that is your solution.
What have your experiences been with social media records? Good, bad, indifferent?
Have you had success building ties and a network with IT and Communications?
Let us know in the comments section below!