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In case you are unfamiliar, as part of the Presidential Records Act of 1978, the President must record and archive all communications internally and externally during his presidency for public record. With the advent of social media, this has become a bit more interesting, as conversations are often offloaded onto third party platforms: Facebook, Twitter, etc. I found this recent post on the White House blog (I love saying that) concerning how the White House proposes to archive social media conversations in which they are involved.  You can read the full post here. I’ve also included an excerpt below:

The PRA also extends to communications from people outside the White House.  So if a lobbyist or CEO emails the White House, that communication is a presidential record and will eventually be made public.  The same holds true for correspondence received by the White House from the public.  Because of the PRA, Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush all treated letters, faxes, and other communications from the public as presidential records.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  The PRA was written in 1978.  It doesn’t have a section on email.  But everyone agrees that these electronic communications meet the Act’s broad definition of presidential records, and that the White House is legally required to preserve them.

The emergence of social media has created new forms of communication.  Instead of sending an email, people often now post on someone’s profile or comment on a video or photo that’s been uploaded.  When people want to tell the White House what they think, they’ll often do the same thing on our social media pages.  A lot of times, we solicit this feedback because we want to hear from you.

These new types of communications from individuals to the White House, even though they take a different form, are governed by the PRA.  Working with NARA, we’ve concluded that comments and messages the White House receives on its official pages are presidential records.  That means the PRA requires us, by law, to preserve them.

As a result, the government has put together a draft request for a proposal for an automated archiving process for social media. They’ve even gone so far as to look for a social media archivist to help with the process.  So for any of my library science grads out there looking for employment, take note.  Personally, I love seeing how engaged in new media and new technologies this administration has become and by association, endorsing these technologies as valid and useful ways to communicate with the public.

  1. Emily Schroeder OrvikNo Gravatar on Wednesday 23, 2009

    Fascinating. . . I suspect this will also have to trickle down to all sorts of state and local government agencies. Sort of a Digital Asset Management system for comments and social media correspondence.
    Wonder how often people will really want to/need to look back.
    Good thing digital storage is cheap!

  2. JoshNo Gravatar on Wednesday 23, 2009

    It is also nice to see a law that remained current after 30+ years.