Facebook Public Records Update

I’d like to continue on Scott Horvath’s blog post about Facebook’s “Download Your Data” with a quick analysis from a public records retention viewpoint. Having researched this issue thoroughly in the past and blogging “Apps.gov Needs to Carry the Public Records Torch” on GovLoop, I keep a close eye on this.

For background, agencies nationwide struggle with Public Records Retention Laws requiring them to retain everything they post and all public comments received in return. The problem is that some social media service terms and conditions do not allow you to save public comments, and others are unclear on the issue (like Facebook). This is a major roadblock to government social media adoption.

So through that lens, lets look at what this new “Download Your Data” feature is and what it isn’t. Italics indicates language taken directly from Facebook statements.

  • Is: A comprehensive copy of the information you have shared on Facebook
  • Isn’t: A copy of what your friends have shared on your wall.

  • Is: A downloadable Zip file designed for individual use.
  • Isn’t: A data source for developers or other services.

The main point here is that this feature is for backing up your own contributions to Facebook to “get out what you put in” – not for porting those contributions to another service or retaining comments made on your wall.
To quote Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on this new feature:
I think that [Download Your Data] is a pretty big step forward in terms of making it so that people can download all of their information, but it isn’t going to be all of what everyone wants. There are going to be questions about why you can’t download your friend’s information too. And it’s because it’s your friend’s and not yours. But you can see that information on Facebook, so maybe you should be able to download it… those are some of the grey areas.
While commercial services like Socialware Sync (which I’ve used and can recommend) and free tools like Bellingham’s Facebook Fan Archiver enable us to backup all activity (including those comments), in my professional opinion the line is not clear as to whether or not this violates Facebook’s Terms & Conditions – especially with statements from their CEO like the one above.
Of course, every move into social media for government carries some risk, and there are plenty of agencies who believe there’s greater risk in not archiving comments and breaking Public Records Laws than there is only recording their own contributions and playing it safe with Facebook’s terms.
What’s unfortunate is that to this day there are many agencies who won’t use Facebook all-together (or will disable commenting) because the public records line is not clearly drawn, and Facebook hasn’t clarified their terms well enough.
Agree? Disagree? Comments time!

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Kristy Dalton

Interesting stuff. Can you please elaborate on “…some social media service terms and conditions do not allow you to save public comments”? I’m curious which platforms you’re referring to, so I can read up. Thanks.