North Carolina launches social media records management platform

By Joseph Marks

December 4, 2012

North Carolina’s state government unveiled a social media archiving platform Tuesday that designers believe will be the first to offer complete public access to archived social media data and metadata.

The Social Media Archive is in a beta version now and only displays Facebook and Twitter posts from or directed at a handful of agencies, including Gov. Bev Purdue’s office. Ultimately, the tool will be expanded to include more than 130 of the state’s social media sites, said Anil Chawla, founder of Archive Social, the company that developed the tool

Federal agencies and most state and municipal government offices are required to store records of communications so they’ll be available for future researchers and can be produced in response to Freedom of Information Act or state open records requests. Attorneys also often demand these records as evidence in lawsuits.  

Social media posts present a problem because they exist on websites controlled by third party companies, not by the government. Neither Facebook nor Twitter guarantees it can or will maintain a complete record of a user’s posts and tweets.

Previous tools to archive social media have typically converted those posts to another file format such as a Word or PDF document, Chawla said. As a result, much of the metadata connected to the posts such as links to external websites and date and time information are lost.

Many federal agencies have simply asked employees to save screenshots tweets and Facebook posts or to print them out. That can lead to trouble because a screenshot taken at one point can look completely different from a screenshot taken at another point if new people comment on or respond to a post or if a government employee removes a post to correct an error or clean up wording, Chawla said.

“When you have a legal situation and you go to court with a screenshot printed out and the other side has a screenshot that’s completely different, then that record you’ve kept is basically no help,” he said.

North Carolina’s new system captures information directly from Facebook and Twitter in the file format it was created in, so all metadata remains intact, Chawla said. Users can then export that data as a PDF or in some other format, he said.

Chawla’s company has outfitted several municipal governments with similar tools. Many governments and agencies are interested in using the tool for other social media sites, such as YouTube, Flickr and Pinterest, he said.

The White House has ordered agencies to revamp the way they store digital records, including social media posts, by the end of 2019. Much of that updating is focused on properly storing the sort of metadata included in the North Carolina system.

By Joseph Marks

December 4, 2012