Social media records prove tough to preserve

Report: Current technologies, policies and governance inadequate to the task

Federal records management of social media is fragmented, difficult to define and inadequately funded, and fixing those problems will require a fundamental shift in thinking, according to a new report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

The problems are too great for federal agencies to fix on their own, and a chief records officer for the federal government is needed to elevate records management goals, wrote Patricia Franks, an associate professor in the School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University and author of the report. The center recently released the undated report on its website.

“This new media brings with it new challenges — especially for records managers struggling to apply existing records management laws and regulations to records created in a social media world,” Franks wrote. “These new challenges cannot be met at the agency level alone.”


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Twenty-two out of 24 major federal agencies are currently active on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, according to a recent study.

Overall, federal agencies sponsor 205 Twitter feeds, 165 social media accounts, 108 blogs, 28 crowdsourcing applications and 13 wikis, the center's report states.

However, existing technologies and policies can't handle records management, Franks wrote.

“Current technology is not up to the challenge of capturing, managing and preserving electronic records, especially social media records,” she wrote. "While agencies are addressing those problems individually, the results may create silos and duplicative efforts and result in short-term solutions."

Agencies report a number of problems with records management technologies.

  • Some agencies report losing data when moving information from one system to another.
  • Employees are frustrated at being unable to locate information in a timely fashion in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.
  • Agencies have tools to capture large amounts of data but not to analyze it.
  • Agencies need methods to collect and tag metadata automatically and accurately.
  • Agencies need tools to capture social media records in a format that maintains content, context and structure.
  • Agency systems produce records that are incompatible with formats approved by the National Archives and Records Administration.

The current guidance on defining and preserving social media records is offered by a patchwork of agencies, including NARA, the White House, the General Services Administration and the CIO Council, Franks wrote.

“Gathering information from disparate sources and incorporating them into a coherent records management program is further complicated by numerous directives and memos of clarification being released in relation to the Open Government Initiative and the use of social media,” she wrote.

Designating a chief records officer would centralize and elevate the records management function and strengthen existing authorities. “Some federal agencies seem to disregard the authority of the NARA,” the report states.

The report recommends that the chief records officer work with industry and federal leaders to clarify definitions and coordinate with the federal CIO to integrate records management responsibilities at IT offices. It also recommends immediate improvements in records management training for federal employees.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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