States Get Social

By Deamer, Kacey | News Media and the Law, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

States Get Social

Deamer, Kacey, News Media and the Law

Government use of social media is popular, but is it following state laws?

In the age of social media and Web 2.0 technology, state governments are connecting with citizens in new ways, particularly through the use of social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

However, state agencies maintaining social media sites are faced with the task of ensuring such action adheres to public records and open meetings laws. As a result, some governments have taken preventative measures to safeguard themselves from violations.

Prior to launching a Facebook profile, the city of Coral Springs, FIa., wanted to ensure that there was a clear understanding of their legal obligation to maintain public records under state law. Samuel S. Goren, the former Coral Springs city attorney, wrote to then-Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum on behalf of the Coral Springs City Commission inquiring about the application of Florida's public records law regarding Facebook.

In 2009, McCollum authored an advisory opinion in response to Goren 's letter. McCollum determined that "the creation of a Facebook page must be for a municipal, not private, purpose." Therefore, he concluded that "placement of material on the city's page would presumably be ... in connection with the transaction of official business and thus subject to the provisions" of Florida's public records law.

The opinion noted that Florida law defines public record to include: "[A]Il documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, data processing software, or other material, regardless of the physical form, characteristics, or means of transmission, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency."

McCollum determined "there may be material placed on the city's Facebook page that is personal and does not relate to the transaction of official business." Therefore, for each piece of content on the Facebook page, "the determination would have to be made based upon the definition of 'public record,'" he said.

The city of Coral Springs' Facebook profile was launched in 2009. The city's legal requirements for maintaining the Facebook profile are posted to its website: "Under Florida law, The City of Coral Springs' Facebook page was established for municipal purposes of communicating City business, apprising City residents of upcoming events and allowing residents a forum in which to discuss certain topics relevant to the official business of the City."

Under a state's public records laws, generally, documents concerning government business must be filed and saved for a certain period of time. If a city council maintains a social media site on which it shares government information, the contents ofthat site must be managed as a public record. Social media sites also raise the possibility of violating the state's open meetings law if, for example, government officials post comments about state business.

The North Carolina Office of the Governor published a list of guidelines in 2009 that offered "best practices" for social media use in the state. The document states that communications via agency-related social networking sites are public record.

"Both the posts of the employee administrator and any feedback by other employees or non-employees, including citizens, will become part of the public record," the governor's office explained.

Because public records laws may not be understood by all users of social networking sites, the governor's office suggested including the following statement on the website: "Representatives of North Carolina state government communicate via this Web site. Consequently any communication via this site (whether by a state employee or the general public) may be subject to monitoring and disclosure to third parties."

While some states, like North Carolina, have produced guidelines for social media usage, no states have specifically included social media sites in their definition of a "public record.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

States Get Social


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?