Access and Feeds

Records Management: Government Treading the Rough Waters of Social Media Records

By Dick Weisinger

Records Management has long been a complex and tedious undertaking, but the increased use of new social media technologies is making the task even more complicated.  Information conveyed via Social Media typically is characterized by frequent updates and refreshes.  Being able to capture information that should be classified as a record and to then preserve and manage that information is extremely difficult to do within the context of Social Media.

For the federal government, addressing records management in the context of social media is a problem that is here today.  A GAO report found that 22 of the 24 largest federal agencies are actively using social media tools like FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube.   Federal agencies have created as many as 205 Twitter feeds, 165 social media accounts, 108 blogs, 28 crowdsourcing applications and 13 wikis.

Despite the difficulty of the problem, a number of government departments and federal agencies are trying to attack the problem of social media records management head on.   Some federal departments and agencies have developed documents that outline social media policies and guidelines.  For example, the USDA, the Department of Energy, the US Navy, the US Army, the Department of Defense, the US Air Force, the US Marines, the US Coast Guard, and the Department of Justice all have published social media policy documents.

But it’s not enough.  A research report by IBM on how the federal government is handing social media records finds that much more needs to be done.  The IBM reports says that “current technology is not up to the challenge of capturing, managing and preserving electronic records, especially social media records.  While agencies are addressing those problems individually, the results may create silos and duplicative efforts and result in short-term solutions.”

Some of the problems identified in the report include:

  • Data can often be captured, but analyzing it and efficiently classifying and filing it can be difficult
  • Data is often moved or lost when transferred between systems
  • The process of gathering and classifying data needs to be automated
  • Content, context and structure of information all need to be captured when information from social media is collected
  • Information captured is often in formats not approved by NARA (National Archives and Records Administration)
  • Currently there are many different directives coming from different sources about how to collect and manage social records

The report refers back to the international standard for records management ISO-15489 and interprets  the recommendations from that standard when applied to the context of social media.  Some of those recommendations include:

  • Creation of a “Chief Records Officer” that sets common policies for records management across all departments and agencies
  • Improvement in training in records management across all agencies
  • Integrate records systems across the government
  • Establish research groups that can focus on the creation of good policy for managing social media information as records
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