Dump that data: Agencies need not preserve Web 2.0 content

Much of federal agency social media content is temporary and can be deleted, according to the National Archives and Records Administration

Much of the content on federal agencies' Web 2.0 and social media platforms doesn't need to be saved permanently as an official record, according to a new report from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Agencies and NARA “should clarify to the public that most content created on Web 2.0 and social media platforms is temporary in nature and will not be retained as an official record,” according to NARA’s report.

Temporary content may include public comments and duplicative agency statements, said the report, which was prepared by NARA’s National Records Management Program.


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The study examines use of wikis, blogs, and social media Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter at 25 federal agencies, with six agencies examined in detail. It found that the federal organizations are using those platforms for public outreach and for internal, external and interagency information-sharing and networking.

The agencies are wondering how to identify and preserve their official Web 2.0 and social media records for posterity and to meet public expectations about those records, NARA said.

For example, because the culture of the Web engenders a general expectation that content on the Web should be available forever, some agencies are reluctant to remove information once it is published, even if that information has no permanent value, the report said.

“Since the information posted in Web 2.0 tools is highly visible, agencies fear that removal of the information would be interpreted as avoiding openness and accountability without providing justification for their actions in the eyes of the public,” the report said.

However, maintaining all records indefinitely is not a good management strategy and has significant life-cycle costs, NARA continued. From a records management perspective, much of the information on social media is classified as temporary in nature and need not be saved.

Much of the information presented on federal social media platforms is without official value or duplicative — such as announcements that are retweeted on Twitter, and don't need to be preserved as a permanent record, NARA said.

On the other hand, some federal wiki, blog and social media content does have permanent value, and agencies need to assess when that is the case, the report added.

In the Web 2.0 environment, that assessment is best performed not by platform or tool, but rather based on the specific function and use of the information, and whether it has business, evidential, informational or contextual value, the report said.

To improve agencies' handling of their records, the report makes several recommendations, including:

  • NARA may need to clarify how to define an official Web 2.0 record.
  • NARA and agencies should evaluate existing records schedules and how they apply to Web 2.0 records.
  • Agencies need to integrate records management into their social media policies.· NARA should work with other agency partners to identify best practices for Web 2.0 records.

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Reader comments

Fri, Sep 3, 2010 Michael D. Long Knoxville, TN

Web 2.0 is neither more nor less than a disjoint combination of software applications where the user interface is presented within a Web browser. The database behind the application is for all intents and purposes the same as a mail server, and records stored within such applications should be in accordance with that for e-mail. Likewise, employees' use of such applications (if permitted) should be in accordance with guidelines on e-mail and public records dissemination. This entire debate has failed to show a measurable benefit to the public, who ultimately foots the bill for everything associated with Web 2.0 adoption. Every second that employees spend on writing "dear diary" entries in a blog, chattering away on some topic they are not in a position to put forth policy, or updating personal content (as is very common), detracts from their ability to perform the function that the American people are paying them to do. Add in the costs of both internal and external oversight of the use of such applications these applications become budget busters. From my perspective I see waste, fraud, and abuse in government, as the Congress did not appropriate funds for the addition of such activities in the agency budgets.

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