Social media is seemingly free to use, and that's a significant part of its appeal. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube accounts, which cost nothing, can give cities and towns a way to communicate with residents and the media, as long as they take the time to cultivate a following on those platforms. But what if the municipality receives a Freedom of Information Act request for social media records, and those records are nowhere to be found?
The platform itself may not have the records, especially if they were deleted. Services that archive social media records are available paid subscription.
When considering the possibility that a local government will need to be able to produce records, Clark Cooper, virtual chief information officer with VC3, stresses the need of getting coverage through an archiving solution when using social media. Governments using social media, he said, should understand that "it comes with cost."
For the City of Greer, a solution was available through a service it was already using. The city used GovQA to create its Greer Connect portal for users to report issues and ask questions and later launched online FOIA requests with GovQA. In 2016, they began using it for social media archiving, and that service has since been transferred to PageFreezer. Real-time archiving of 17 social media accounts have now created an archive of more than 25,000 posts, according to Steve Owens, communications manager for Greer.
"The module works automatically in the background, requiring little effort by account owners," he said. "Although we have had just one FOIA request for social media records since installing the system, we were able to respond quickly to provide the requested information. Social media FOIA requests may currently be a small fraction of the city's overall FOIA requests, but it's comforting to know that we are in compliance with open records law and are able to fulfill records requests for social media."
The City of Greenwood, meanwhile, uses ArchiveSocial for all of its social media accounts, said Steffanie Dorn, Greenwood's finance director and municipal clerk. She noted that when staff need to delete a post that violates the city's policies, the service keeps the record archived.