Public Records Laws and Social Media Retention in
Illinois Freedom of Information Act and Social Media
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) governs social media records in Illinois. The law defines public records as information and communications sent or received by public agencies “regardless of physical form or characteristics.“
View Law Text
(5 ILCS 140/1) (from Ch. 116, par. 201)
Sec. 1. Pursuant to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of government, it is declared to be the public policy of the State of Illinois that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them as public officials and public employees consistent with the terms of this Act. Such access is necessary to enable the people to fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgments and monitoring government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest.
(c) “Public records” means all records, reports, forms, writings, letters, memoranda, books, papers, maps, photographs, microfilms, cards, tapes, recordings, electronic data processing records, electronic communications, recorded information and all other documentary materials pertaining to the transaction of public business, regardless of physical form or characteristics, having been prepared by or for, or having been or being used by, received by, in the possession of, or under the control of any public body.
Guidance on Social Media Records in Illinois from the Secretary of State
In January 2020, the Illinois Secretary of State’s office released specific guidance for government agencies using social media to ensure compliance with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. This publication explains when social media posts are considered records and offers guidance on retention, including recommendations to retain the records in an outside application.
View SoS Guidance
Page 1, Social Media:
“When an agency chooses to use the social media platform as a two-way communication forum, then records are being created and will require management under either Act. In addition to being a record, any public comments are protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and must be managed accordingly”
Page 5, Posting Period and Log:
“It is recommended that a posting log be created in a spread sheet application that records the initial posting date, content developer, approving authority, any attachments, record series identifier, and date of posting removal from the social media site.”
Page 7, Comments:
“When an agency elects to open a page to receive comments from the public, then the original posting along with all comments associated with it are a record. This record is managed under an existing record series such as ‘General Correspondence’, or the creation of a new record series for social media postings.”
Illinois Social Media Records Management in Practice
The Peoria County Sheriff’s Office offers a great example of a comprehensive social media policy that clearly outlines the impact of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act on social media records.
View Peoria's Social Media Policy
Excerpt from: Peoria County Sheriff’s Office: Social Media Policy (for complete policy, please click the link)
As a communications tool, the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office shall utilize its Facebook Page and Twitter account to raise awareness among Peoria County and neighboring residents and visitors, community partners, and interested fans and followers of public safety news and information that affects the Peoria County area.
Social media sites grant the PCSO an additional opportunity to share its public safety messages with the general public. The PCSO shall utilize its Facebook Page and Twitter account to post news releases, photos, videos, and important public safety information, including but not limited to Amber Alerts, information about wanted criminals, road closures, power outages, and other emergency announcements.
Whenever possible, the PCSO’s social media sites shall comply with all applicable Peoria County Sheriff’s Office and County of Peoria policies and procedures, including section III-13B Political Activity of the County of Peoria Personnel Policies.
Postings on the PCSO’s social media sites are public records of the County of Peoria and may be subject to disclosure under the State of Illinois’ Freedom on Information Act.
Social Media Record Retention Legal News in Illinois
Read about Illinois cases and precedents involving social media and public record retention.
The State Attorney General determined Orland Park, IL violated FOIA after it failed to fill a social media records request.
The village failed to fill a records request for a list of users blocked on its social media accounts, arguing the lists are not subject to records law. The Attorney General disagreed and determined that as the account’s owner, Orland Park chooses which users to block, thus creating the record they are obligated to fill under FOIA.
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