Should Governments Bother Archiving Social Media?

Social Media

Just like physical documents and emails, government social media conversations and interactions are considered public data. But while many agencies have invested in automated tools to help them mine platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to fulfill Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, there haven’t been a high volume of them.

Seattle and Austin, Texas, both use services to archive digital activity and communications. Yet, representatives from both cities told Government Technology that they rarely receive any public information requests for social media postings.

“We’re not currently [and] I think part of that is most of it is public already,” said Sabra Schneider, director of electronic communications for Seattle. “So people who want to see the records, can. We haven’t had any requests for social media records since April 2013.”

Seattle uses a decentralized approach to answering FOIA requests, with each department responding to inquiries. But the city’s new chief technology officer, Michael Mattmiller, noted that since Seattle uses an archival tool called Backupify to capture social media posts and messages, those departments likely would have needed to contact his office for the data.

Schneider added that a big reason why there aren’t many requests for social media data is because the platforms aren’t considered the primary record for city information. Most of Seattle’s official information is posted in news releases or blog posts, so there isn’t a lot of “new data” in social media, except for public comments and direct messages from the public to the respective city accounts.

Seattle’s IT team may not have gotten any requests, but the city’s police department has. The Seattle Police Department’s twitter account, @SeattlePD, received a request for archived tweets earlier this year.

Austin, Texas, uses ArchiveSocial to retain a historical record of its social media activity. But not all the departments in the city are covered by the system, including the Austin City Council. Doug Matthews, the city’s chief communications director, explained that the city is evaluating the cost of implementing the solution citywide, but he can’t recall any recent example where social postings were part of a public information request. (Editor’s note: The parent company of Government Technology is an investor in ArchiveSocial through e.Republic Ventures).

In the past, city departments in Austin would have account managers periodically export social media posting data and save it manually, including taking screenshots when applicable.

“It was clearly an inefficient process, and left quite a bit — For more information read the original article here.    

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