Study Clarifies Government's Social Media Record Requirements - InformationWeek

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Study Clarifies Government's Social Media Record Requirements

The National Archives and Records Administration is looking to remove hurdles that have held up adoption of Web 2.0 in government by clarifying its policies.

In an attempt to clear up confusion over record-keeping requirements for government use of social media, the National Archives and Records Administration has released a new report detailing the intersection of records and social media and recommending new policies to address federal record keeping in the Web 2.0 era.

The study, "A Report on Federal Web 2.0 Use and Record Value," comes as more and more agencies embrace social media for official communications, and drew on interviews and focus groups with representatives from 25 federal agencies to determine how social media is being used in government today.

Just like all other media created by government, social media is partially governed by the Federal Records Act and E-Government Act, which, respectively, place requirements on record keeping and on the use of IT to conduct government business. While NARA has previously addressed how these laws regulate web records, it hasn't formally addressed the phenomena of Web 2.0 and social media.

Part of the study surveyed current federal agency records management policies on the use of Web 2.0 tools. For example, it noted recent detailed Department of Defense guidance indicating that users need to be aware of the record value of social media, "including content that may originate outside the agency." The Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, requires records created or received via social media to be printed out on paper.

The study concludes that agencies should evaluate the labeling of social media as federal records in the context of the value to the public of the content being created, and for factors that might affect that value, such as extensive duplication (perhaps by Tweeting and re-Tweeting the same announcement repeatedly) and the overall perception of the authoritativeness and longevity of social media content. This can help determine what's a record and what isn't.

However, social media can also complicate this equation. For example, the study finds pervasive duplication of social media has made it difficult for agencies to determine which version is the "official" version and how that version and the others need to be maintained.

While something like the duplication of social media may decrease the amount of material that needs to be maintained as federal records, the study notes that other aspects of social media may enhance the material's value and therefore increase its importance as a record. For example, metadata and enhanced functionality beyond that of typical text can add to the contextual value of the material, and make it more likely to be a viable record. This analysis might apply, for example, to the change history of a wiki.

NARA also makes several more specific recommendations for agency and government policy about social media as records. For example, it admits that NARA may need to clarify how the definition of federal records applies to Web 2.0 content, including guidance on what Web 2.0 information "may be categorized as a record."

In addition, NARA says, it may need to clarify that agencies and the public will need to realize that, although the public may expect social media records like Tweets and YouTube videos to be available indefinitely, most of the content created doesn’t have permanent value and may either be destroyed after a certain period of time or never made accessible through agency websites. However, for those fewer records that indeed do have permanent value, NARA may need to "re-evaluate its transfer mechanisms and guidance" to ensure preservation.

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