The onset of social media has brought challenges to what constitutes a public record.
Up to the launch and subsequent popularity of social media, what constituted a public record was pretty straightforward. By definition, a public record is a document or information that is not considered confidential.
It sounds simple by that definition. Census records, voter registration, government spending reports, court case records, criminal records, legislative organization minutes and other records, depending on which state you live in, are considered public records and can be accessed by citizens.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, citizens can get copies of, or be able to examine public records. It's used often by the news media in order to find out information government agencies don't make readily public.
That all changed with the onset of the Internet and social media. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, blogging and other forms of social media used by government employees and agencies have drawn considerable attention. Why? This is because everything posted or communicated by a government agency, employee or official is considered a public record. Public records need to be archived and available if requested.
So how do you save social media and archive it as a public record?
Some things are easy. For example, if a public official, employee or department has a blog, most blogging software has an archiving component to it. Most visitors to the site would be able to access previous blogs without having to file any paperwork.
With Facebook, a history of photos, posts, videos, wall comments and anything else are also right there and available to look at. There is no issue of archiving, so long as Facebook allows previous years of content to be readily available.
Like Facebook, Twitter is instantaneous and is an effective way to communicate. Another similar component is history. Your tweets are there for the looking; no requests are needed.
Ah, there's a catch
Nothing is ever easy, including social media public records. The overriding issue with social media is that, while the entire history on a social media account is readily available, that history can be altered.
Posts, photographs, tweets, blog posts, comments and virtually anything else can be deleted from a social media site. That poses a problem when the social media site belongs to a government entity. It's a public record and it must be available when requested.
Some government agencies archive social media by using webpage archiving technology to preserve information. It can even be as simple as copying and pasting information into a document and storing it on a hard drive.
What is not so easy is categorizing what is saved. Facebook and Twitter can be archived by date, as can blog posts. The same can be said for Pinterest photo posts. Beyond that, however, there are few, if any ways to break down social media by topic categories and archive it.
Social media is here to stay. Figuring out how to make social media public records readily available will continue to be a challenge.