FAQ: When is Social Media a Record?

If the question is, “Can Social Media Content be a record?” then the answer is “Yes, it can be.” This is supported by the definition of a government record as defined in the Local Government Records Act (LGRA) and in the Government Code Chapter 441 for State Agencies; records can exist in a variety of formats, including “electronic medium, or other information recording medium, regardless of physical form or characteristic” (Local Government Code Section 201.003(8)). But when is it actually a record?

Beyond the legal definition of a record, it can be unclear what local governments and state agencies should consider a record when it comes to social media. Creating a definition of what a social media record includes for your government body and including this definition in a social media policy is a good idea. Social media policy development is the topic of a later blog post in this series and will be discussed in detail at that time.

When it’s not a record (or doesn’t require capture)

The truth of the matter is most of the time social media content is not a record because the information contained is duplicated or exists in a different format. Consider what it takes to be a government record: the information is unique and documents the transaction of state and public business (201.003(8)(A); 441.180(11)(B)). This creates two cases in which (1) social media content is not a record or (2) it is a record but doesn’t require capture and retention.

The “unique” requirement excludes any social media post of duplicate information that exists elsewhere in a different format yet may include social media content created and posted on government time by a government employee. If the information shared is merely cursory and minimal with no lasting importance or need beyond its initial purpose of informing therefore capture and retention is not necessary. Records that do not require capture and retention fall under 1.1.057 Transitory Information for state agencies and GR1000-50 Transitory Information for local governments.

This is an example of a transitory record because beyond informing users of an upcoming event they may want to attend, it has no other use or importance.

This is an example of a transitory record because beyond informing users of an upcoming event they may want to attend, it has no other use or importance.

Take TSLAC for example; between sharing links to events and information related to the library and posting about upcoming events, TSLAC uses its Facebook page as a way to reach out and connect with a broader audience but rarely creates original, unique records using the platform. Even when posting about upcoming events, which could be considered records under 1.1.019 Public Relations Records, the content on TSLAC’s Facebook falls under the category of transitory information either because the content shared is of short-term value, contains duplicate information, or is archived offline.

More often than not, social media records come in the form of interaction from your audience, social media users. Users will interact with your social media presence via comments on posts, complaints about services, liking and sharing a video, requests for information; all of these have the potential to be records in need of capture and retention.[ Read our e-Records 2015 recap post about “What Every Records Manager Must Know About Social Media” to see examples of complaints and public information requests made through social media. ]

How to determine if it’s a record (and what to do)

When it comes to determining if social media content is a record there are varying tactics to employ and government bodies should do what makes sense for their agency.

This TSLAC post contains information that is captured and stored in a different record, an electronic version of which is attached to the post. Therefore this post is a duplication and not a record.

This TSLAC post contains information that is captured and stored in a different record, an electronic version of which is attached to the post. Therefore this post is a duplication and not a record.

The easiest answer is to not use social media platforms to create records and if records are created, do not rely on the platform to maintain the record; store the record copy elsewhere.

 

When using social media the likelihood of record creation is increased and the best solution is to be prepared. When faced with potential social media records, ask yourself:

  • Does this document government business or provide evidence of an important action?
  • Is this a unique record?
  • Does the information exist elsewhere in a different record or format?
  • Does it fit into my government’s definition of a social media record?

Some governments choose to consider all social media posts to be records by adding a blanket series for all social media content to their retention schedules. Retention of social media records is a topic of a future blog post in the social media series.

Once you determine if you have social media records, there needs to be a plan to capture and retain the record. This includes more than just the record itself, but also accompanying metadata that provides important context. Both methods of social media capture and explanation of electronic record metadata are topics to be covered in future blog posts in this series. Stay tuned!

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