Blog post

Governments on Facebook Are Off The Records

By Andrea Di Maio | September 27, 2009 | 2 Comments

social networks in government

I intended to write this post before, but I have been travelling last week (with a few flight connection and lost luggage hiccups). So it is only now that I can put a few thoughts down in writing on what I believe is one of the most important (but not  too widely publicized or commented) initiatives from the White House about Government 2.0.

On 19 September Macon Phillips, the White House Director of New Media, posted on the White House blog about Reality Check: The Presidential Records Act of 1978 meets web-based social media of 2009, addressing the important topic of how to interpret in social media terms a law passed after the Watergate issue to make sure that any record created or received by the President or his staff is preserved, archived by NARA (the National Archives and Records Administration), which in turn releases them to the public in compliance with the relevant privacy act.

There is one very important passage in Phillips’ post:

The White House is not archiving all content or activity across social networks where we have a page – nor do we want to.  The only content archived is what is voluntarily published on the White House’s official pages on these sites or what is voluntarily sent to a White House account.

This is what I have been advising many clients about when we were conversations about how to use social media to engage citizens. When the alternative is between creating blogs, wikis, social networks on a government web site or do so outside their firewall and real estate, the latter is much better from a records management perspective. The above implies that anything published on an external social network is not to be considered as a public record. On the contrary, any statement, any comment, any change made on the government web real estate is subject to records management rules.

This has also important privacy ramifications. As Phillips highlights in his post, records management need to meet privacy requirements. However I am sure people feel more comfortable commenting where they are not afraid those comments may become part of an archived public record.

In other terms, talking on external social media, government organizations and their employees are “off the records”, while on their web sites they are “on the records”. Still they need to meet the obligations of their codes of conduct, but clearly there is much more room for maneuver on a non-government social media site.

All this does not change the fact that just being present as a government organization on a social media site does not make that presence relevant or compelling for the intended target audience. But at least it helps understand where to effectively engage citizens and where not to.

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  • Walter Neary says:

    Holy smokes. What’s going to happen when someone files a Freedom of Information Act request for anything a federal agency has put on a site that it didn’t bother to archive? What’s the exemption that could be claimed?

  • david osimo says:

    This is very important, thanks for sharing!