Commentary – Social media: The next generation of archiving

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on December 23, 2013

Social media: The next generation of archiving, by John Moore: “Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have become commonplace tools for government outreach. Agencies tweet about everything from developments in medical research to public safety information. Federal Facebook pages offer a similar scope of government missives, while YouTube provides a collection of briefings, speeches and agency news. And the number of social media platforms continues to expand, with services such as Pinterest growing in popularity among government agencies this year. Against that backdrop, agencies have started retaining and archiving social media. It’s a challenging endeavor. They need to determine which communications must be preserved and then devise archival strategies for a still-evolving set of platforms.

“The social media landscape changes frequently, and the tools and platforms that we use to engage with the public constantly evolve,” said Richard Stapleton, senior deputy at the Digital Communications Division and senior Web strategist at the Department of Health and Human Services. “This past year, our office began using Vine, Pinterest, Tumblr and Storify. Each of these platforms requires a new evaluation and approach.”

Social recordkeepers are using home-grown methods to preserve communications, tapping capabilities native to specific social media platforms and adopting emerging third-party social media archiving tools. Why it matters –  The Federal Records Act casts a wide net for what constitutes a federal record. The act defines a record as any material — “regardless of physical form or characteristics” — that an agency creates or receives in the course of conducting public business and that warrants preservation. A blog, tweet or other social media post may be deemed a federal record under that definition. A recent bulletin from the National Archives and Records Administration underscores that point.

“Content on social media is likely a federal record,” NARA’s Oct. 25 notice states. “Agencies must identify the official record and determine how it will be managed. Some social media records may be temporary, with a transitory, short- or long-term retention. Some may even be permanent, such as a blog by an agency senior official.”

The current focus on social media stems, in part, from the Managing Government Records Directive, which the Obama administration launched last year. The directive aims to create a records management framework that better monitors agency actions. The initiative calls for NARA to create a plan that outlines “suitable approaches for the automated management of email, social media and other types of digital content….”

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