State and local government agencies want to be your friend on Facebook and broadcast their latest tweets via Twitter, but existing state laws can limit their effectiveness. State agencies also are trying to figure out the best way to retain and archive records created on social media platforms. Facebook status updates or tweets from Twitter can be viewed online, but the companies allow searching for limited periods of time. That could pose problems if agencies receive open records requests for updates or content that goes back two or three years. Douglas Doe, Web manager with the Office of State Finance, said his agency is negotiating with archiving services and working with the state Libraries Department to update existing records retention schedules and definitions. "We’re trying to decide if we need to draft new record types or use existing record types that things in the Web 2.0 arena would map to,” Doe said. "It’s incumbent in state government that we try to identify as many content types as we possibly can.” The Internet’s "Wild West” mentality of anything goes also has given some government agencies pause when it comes to social media. The automatic ad placement on Facebook pages can be embarrassing or inappropriate for a general audience. Monitoring the comments or messages from such accounts also can turn into a full-time job for already busy employees. Another pitfall can be whom to "follow” on Twitter and whether it constitutes an official endorsement by that agency or government.Comments
Agencies are leery of using social mediaZach Nash, creative services manager for the city of Oklahoma City, said he’s careful to limit whom the city follows on Twitter to other agencies or nonprofits. That account has more than 3,000 followers but follows just 12 others. "We’re constantly updating or answering questions, but at the same time, we try not to neglect our flagship Web site, whose traffic dwarfs our Twitter or Facebook accounts,” Nash said. The city has had success using frequent Twitter updates during weather emergencies to convey information about closings, shelters or snow routes to users and the media, Nash said. During normal times, the city tries not to overdo its updates. "It’s a way to start the conversation,” Nash said of Twitter. "We deal in facts or answer specific questions about city services.” Meanwhile, the terms of service that private users agree to on social media sites such as Facebook or YouTube can spell trouble for state agencies, holding them liable for certain actions. Twitter has less stringent terms of service, which is why there are more agencies using the microblogging platform than setting up YouTube or Facebook accounts. Like most other states, the Oklahoma Constitution puts limits on what state agencies can agree to in contracts. The "limitation of liability” clause in the terms of service agreements for many social media platforms means it could be some time before the governor’s office uses YouTube or the state Health Department uses the presentation-sharing site Slideshare. Doe, with the Office of State Finance, is coordinating the state’s renegotiations of those terms of service agreements. He’s also working with the National Association of State Chief Information Officers on a similar effort nationwide.
‘Making progress on all fronts’Doe said state groups are following the lead of the federal government when it comes to social media policy. But since state laws are so varied, it’s taking longer for states to negotiate the same types of changes with technology providers. "We’re making progress on all fronts,” Doe said. "It may not be as fast as some people would like and some agencies would like, but when the federal government did this, it didn’t happen overnight either.” Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, said several bills are pending before the Legislature that would complement what Doe is doing to open up social media platforms for state agency use. "We need to clear some statutory hurdles that I think from a policy perspective they are working hard to try to get around on their own, but statutory authority would be very helpful for allowing the use of social media and technology products,” said Murphey, chairman of the House Government Modernization committee. "It comes down to three issues: security, open records and liability. Oklahoma has some complicated limited liability interpretation which has historically prevented social media usage or discouraged it.” Murphey said educating his fellow legislators has been a struggle. Some think Twitter and Facebook are just for kids or young adults and question why state agencies should be involved in the first place, he said.