Sunday, May 29, 2011

Government social media records

Local, state, and federal governments are increasingly using social media to convey important information and to solicit feedback from citizens. However, governments and officials are still struggling to adapt to a Web 2.0 world. Michigan, for example, is actually taking down some social media content as a result of legal considerations and resource limitations. U.S. Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have recently learned that citizen feedback isn't limited to "likes" or approval. At this moment, U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) is probably wishing that he had never gotten a Twitter account. And Kent County, Delaware has recently issued a policy that bars employees from posting negative comments about their colleagues or county government -- whether via county-owned computers while at work or via their own computers and cell phones while off the clock .

What to do? I can't help you strike the right balance between the need to present an appropriate face to the public and the free speech rights of your employees -- the courts will probably do that -- but if you're a government official or employee contemplating using social media, be sure to check out the following resources:
Even a cursory glance at these resources will underscore the fact that, in most jurisdictions, social media content typically meets the statutory definition of a "public record" and must thus be managed properly. For tips on how to do so, consult the following:
At present, just about everyone seems to agree that most social media content has a short retention period. Unfortunately -- but not surprisingly -- there is no consensus regarding how best to capture and preserve content that has enduring value. There are lots of tools out there, and all of them have different features and save content differently. Given that most social media content will likely be destroyed within a relatively short timeframe, this isn't as big a problem as it might be. However, I suspect that those of us charged with capturing and preserving content deemed archival may run into some preservation problems a few years down the road -- and I hope that the federal government's 2009

My own experience is limited to capturing content created by others, which poses some additional challenges: some social media capture tools are expressly designed to help people preserve their own content and require full login rights. In such a situation, use of a Web crawler may be the best approach. I've experimented -- with decidedly mixed results -- with using OCLC's Heritrix-based Web Harvester to capture Facebook, IdeaScale, Twitter, and YouTube content, and I know several people have had somewhat greater success with Heritrix-based Archive-It service. If you're interested in exploring Web crawling of social media content, check out this nice list of Web crawling software and services.

If you're looking to preserve your own content, other options are available:
  • Several low- and no-cost tools that support capture and archiving of one's own Facebook and Twitter content are out there. For more information, consult April Edmonds's superb overview.
  • TwapperKeeper enables you to capture and preserve tweets (i.e., individual Twitter posts) that contain specified hashtags or keywords. Using this tool to capture all of the tweets created by a specific office may be a challenge, but it can be used to capture all of the tweets related to a specific subject or event. Sadly, the "download and export" and "API" components features present within the Web-based version of TwapperKeeper were recently removed at the behest of Twitter. However, it's still possible to install an open source version of the software that still includes these features on your own server.
  • A growing number of software companies, among them Arkovi, Backupify, LiveOffice, Smarsh, Sonian, and Symantec, are creating social media archiving tools or incorporating them into larger e-mail archiving products. If you're already using an e-mail archiving product, investigate whether it also supports social media archiving. If you're not, a stand-alone commercial product or service may meet your needs.
Finally, please note that, at present, the imperative to manage state and local government social media records may conflict with the terms of service agreements governing usage of social media services such as Facebook or Twitter; in many instances, these agreements limit the extraction or repurposing of content. The federal government has negotiated special agreements with many social media service providers, and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers has negotiated a model Terms of Service agreement for state and local government Facebook users and is currently seeking to develop similar agreements with other social media service providers, but it's likely going to be some time before the legal issues that might affect our ability to manage social media records are resolved conclusively.

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