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Saving Government Tweets Is Tougher Than You Think

Al Mueller/Shutterstock.com

Federal agencies should establish working groups to determine when agency social media posts constitute federal records and how to retain them for posterity, according to new draft guidance from the National Archives and Records Administration.

The working groups should monitor how agencies are retaining posts on social media sites they currently use and help agencies make smart decisions before beginning to use new social sites, the guidance said.

The working groups should include “records management staff, Web managers, social media managers, information technology staff, privacy and information security staff, and other relevant stakeholders,” according to the Archives bulletin.

The guidance, which was published Wednesday, is open for comments until July 12, according to an Archives blog post.

The government has struggled mightily as the technology for creating and sharing documents sometimes outpaces its capacity to store those documents in a way that meets its statutory obligations. Some agency records don't need to be turned over to the National Archives until 30 years after they were produced, a delay that can represent many generations of digital technology.

Social media presents an even thornier challenge because the posts live on a third party’s computer servers rather than on the government’s own.

The draft guidance retains the basic principles from a 2010 Archives bulletin, which noted that most government social media posts are federal records and must be retained for varying time periods depending on how important they are for understanding government policies and decision making.

Both documents urge agencies to adopt terms of service agreements whenever possible that specify social media platforms will retain all the agency’s posts and provide them to the agency upon request or if the site goes out of business or is bought out.

If adopting those terms of service isn’t possible, the agency should develop a method to retain its own posts, the guidance said. Those methods could include using Web crawling software to create local versions of the site, using Web capture tools to transfer posts to another format such as text files, or using application programming interfaces or platform-specific tools to pull the content. 

(Image via Al Mueller/Shutterstock.com)

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