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Social Media Archiving for Government: How to Stay Compliant

Government agencies need to maintain an archive of social media content, including all comments and conversations. Here’s how to build a compliant social media archiving strategy.

Christina Newberry July 4, 2023
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Social media archiving for government is a critical component of compliance planning. Social channels are a forum for communicating with constituents and the general public. They are subject to open records and First Amendment laws, just like any other public communication.

Content posted on government social media pages is, by default, publically accessible. But open records laws require a much more thorough archiving of data than the social platforms themselves can provide. Agencies must ensure their social content is archived for access by citizens and journalists. Keep reading to find out how to stay compliant with a smart archiving workflow.

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What is social media archiving for government agencies?

Social media archiving for government agencies is a component of open records laws. Social media is a public forum, and must be archived as such.

A proper archive of your social media content and communication also allows you to respond to public records and freedom of information requests. You also need archived social comments if you are faced with a First Amendment challenge.

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How is social media archiving regulated in the government sector?

Social media archiving regulations vary by country, and even by state. The common component is that social media is generally considered a public record.

Government organizations and agencies need to maintain an archive of social media content. That includes all comments and conversations. This information needs to be accessible to citizens and journalists who request it.

The requirements for archiving are quite specific and can include:

  • Collecting social media metadata
  • Maintaining a record of content in its original format
  • Keeping social media records for s specific period of time
  • Archiving comments even if they are deleted or hidden
  • Maintaining a contextual record of all comments threads
  • Maintaining data in a specific geographic location

Each jurisdiction also has its own privacy regulations. These impact what government agencies can post on social media. For example, the Government of British Columbia has Guidelines for Government Use of Social Media. These specify that the following topics are off-limits:

  • Anything currently going through the court system
  • Confidential information like policy advice and draft legislation
  • Information about identifiable third parties without statutory authorization

Citizen engagement can encourage people to share personal information on social media. This is especially true when people share photos. This is a particularly important area to consider when thinking about data collection and archiving.

How to archive records on social media and stay compliant

Social media compliance is an ongoing challenge for all government agencies. Especially for those involved in active citizen engagement.

You need a comprehensive strategy for social media archiving. This ensures you have all the records you need to:

  • comply with legislation
  • respond to FOI requests,
  • address First Amendment challenges, and
  • improve transparency in government.

Set up archiving policies and procedures

Like any good compliance strategy, your archiving system must be built on a solid foundation. Your archiving policies and procedures are the supports upon which all of your recordkeeping is built.

As you build your policies, do a thorough review of the legislation applicable in your jurisdiction to make sure you comply with every detail.

For example, Australia’s privacy and public data policies require social content to be archived in Australian data centers. That means Australian government agencies can only work with archiving solutions that have data storage options within Australia – like Brolly, which is built into Hootsuite.

Build your archiving policies and procedures into your overall social media guidelines. That way, all staff who deal with social media have easy access to your most current policies at all times.

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Be sure to include a clear process for approving new social media accounts. The more accounts your agency uses, the more you need to archive. Does every department need its own social channels? Perhaps they do, but there should be a strategic purpose for each new account. Before any new account goes live, make sure to add it to your archiving process.

Capture and preserve all social media content

Like we said above, social media content is considered part of the public record. That includes ALL social media communication on or with your social channels.

You might wonder why you need a special archive of your social media content. After all, it’s publically available on your social accounts. But social media platforms themselves are private-sector companies. They are not subject to open records laws. That means there’s no guarantee the social platforms will preserve your content forever.

Plus, if you ever delete or edit content, you need to keep a record of those changes. Open records laws require you to archive every version or every post presented to the public.

You also need a record of all comments made on your social accounts. That applies even if you have to delete or hide those comments for reasons like:

  • identifying information,
  • threats of violence,
  • profanity,
  • and so on.

You also have to consider that people might delete or edit their own comments. You still need them in your archive. Without an archiving solution, you have no way to retrieve a constituent comment that they delete from your page.

In addition to open records laws, you need to protect your organization in case of a First Amendment challenge. That means you need an archive of all deleted or hidden comments

Comments posted to official government agency social accounts generally fall under First Amendment protections. Your social media policy should include an acceptable use policy that indicates what types of comments may be deleted and why. Your archive then allows you to prove there was cause for removal.

You should even keep a record of all content in which you are tagged or mentioned, since this can count as communication. Monitoring content in which you’re tagged or mentioned is a best practice for all social media users. It’s an important way to understand the conversation about you online. For government agencies, it’s critical.

In other words, you need purpose-built social media archiving tools for government. This is the only way to fully archive the conversation with constituents and comply with the law.

As a side note, social’s designation as a public record means you cannot block people from following your government agency social accounts. Archiving is one part of compliance with public records laws, but it’s by no means the whole picture. Check out our detailed blog post for everything you need to know about compliance for government agencies using social media.

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Include metadata and contextual information

Open records legislation in many jurisdictions requires you to preserve social media content with metadata and contextual information. For example, U.S. courts have generally found that screenshots alone are not a sufficient record of a comments thread.

Why? Because a screenshot is just an image, and images can be edited. That’s why social media archiving for government must include metadata and contextual information.

Let’s look at metadata first. Metadata is not visible on a social media page. But it lives in the background of all online content. Metadata captures information about every post and comment, including:

  • Who posted it
  • Exactly when they posted it (timestamp)
  • What device they used

That means you can see, for example, if one person uses multiple accounts to post multiple comments from the same device. More importantly, all of this metadata together allows your agency to prove that the records in your archive are authentic. It shows they are complete and have not been modified. Without metadata, a social media archive file is unlikely to be accepted in court.

Contextual information captures the context in which a comment is made. Context is important because it helps capture the full intent of what was posted. Content can also provide insight into why a comment had to be deleted or hidden.

For example, a standalone comment might appear to have no reason for deletion. But what about in the content of a comments thread? If constituents are responding to one another, that comment might be seen to provide identifiable information about a third party that violates privacy regulations, or to indicate a threat to another commenter.

An archive with complete metadata and contextual information allows you to reconstruct an entire social media conversation. You’ll have details and content that would otherwise be lost.

Make archived content accessible and searchable

The whole point of archiving open records information is that you can access it and provide it to citizens or journalists that submit a freedom of information request. For that to work, your archive needs to be secure but easily accessible by the appropriate members of your team.

It also needs to be searchable so that you can find all relevant content when it’s requested. Social media archiving tools for government should include advanced search capabilities. You should be able to find content from a specific date range, using specific keywords or user data. The ability to tag content and add notes within the archive also comes in handy when you need to retrieve social content.

Again, it’s important that you can access hidden or deleted content and comments. This is especially true in case of a First Amendment challenge. The full context is important to validate any decisions about removing public commentary from your page.

Failure to comply with a freedom of information request or legal challenge can have serious legal and financial consequences. A complete and easy-to-use archive helps protect your agency from lawsuits and other punitive action.

The bonus? A detailed, searchable archive helps you understand comment and question trends. These may reveal that you need to create more resources around a specific program or policy.

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Audit your process on a regular basis

Social media changes fast. Social media legislation doesn’t move quite as quickly, but you can’t assume it will stay the same forever. And the tools available to archive social media content and improve compliance continue to evolve.

That means you need to review your archiving process regularly. You can choose what “regularly” means to your organization, but plan for a thorough social media audit at least quarterly.

For government agencies, that social media audit should include an audit of your archiving process and procedures.

Make sure any new social media accounts have been added to your archiving system. Review the archiving policies and procedures with staff both old and new. Assign someone on your team to monitor any changes in legislation. Be sure to voice these at the regular reviews if they have not yet been addressed.

Social media archiving with Hootsuite

When choosing your social media archiving tools for government compliance, it’s important to work with a trusted and secure vendor. To ensure the security of government and citizen data, the U.S. government requires all cloud services used by federal agencies to pass the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, aka FedRAMP.

Hootsuite is FedRAMP authorized. This identifies Hootsuite as a viable automated government social media archiving solution. Hootsuite also meets the requirements of FCA, IIROC, SEC, PCI, AMF, and MiFID II. This is why more than 2,000 government and public sector agencies use Hootsuite to manage their social media.

Hootsuite integrates with compliance solutions like ProofPoint and Brolly to keep your government social media presence secure. Brolly specifically creates a secure archive with social content, including context, metadata, links, images, and videos.

New posts and comments are automatically archived in real time, including edits, deletions, and hidden comments.

That real-time capability is important because people can change their minds quickly when engaging in a heated debate. You need a record of comments that appear on your page for only a few moments.

Within the archive, you can use tagging, notes, and advanced search to find the information you need to comply with FOI record requests or legal discovery. You can also export your archive to your eRDMS, either manually or on an automated schedule.

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Inform and engage constituents, and manage archiving on social media with Hootsuite. From a single dashboard, you can schedule and publish content to every network, monitor relevant conversations, and measure public sentiment around programs and policies with real-time social listening and analytics. See it in action.

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By Christina Newberry

Christina Newberry is an award-winning writer and editor whose greatest passions include food, travel, urban gardening, and the Oxford comma—not necessarily in that order.

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