voter participation and how social media may or may not impact turnout.Much of the Internet buzz surrounding today's midterm elections in the U.S. revolves around
But the increasing use of Web 2.0 and social media tools also impacts politicians and government employees as well. Many federal agencies have worked to encourage public participation and transparency with these new communication tools. But for one of the federal agency in particular, the rise of new forms of communications has other implications: Are all these new Facebook posts, YouTube videos, and tweets federal records?
Digital Archiving and Federal Records
It's the responsibility of the National Archives and Records Administration to preserve and document all of the federal government's official records. Historically that's included copies of acts of Congress, Executive Orders and presidential proclamations, and federal regulations. But what makes an official record in a Web 2.0 world when politicians and agencies regularly Tweet and blog?
In a blog post today, David Ferriero, the archivist of the United States (also known as AOTUS or "Collector-in-Chief") notes that just because the tone of updates to social media sites might be deemed informal, this "should not be confused with insignificance." There is still the mandate to preserve these records, even if they are found in Tweets and not on parchment.
Federal Agencies Still Struggling to Archive Email, Let Alone Social Media
Late last month, the NARA issued a bulletin to the heads of all federal agencies, outlining the principles that will govern how agencies identify and store their records. Things to consider include whether the information is unique and unavailable elsewhere, whether it contains evidence of agencies' policies, and whether the tool is authorized by the agency.
The NARA has found that many agencies are failing to manage their email records sufficiently, noting that "archaic 'print and file' practices still exist in many agencies, resulting in the inadequate preservation of messages that meet the criteria for Federal records." And if agencies have yet to store their email records electronically, then you can imagine the complexities that are to come with addressing federal records from other online sources like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
As more of the content of our lives - our personal matters, our professional thoughts, and our political acts - are expressed electronically, the National Archives has a difficult task ahead of it in record-keeping and preservation. But the potentials for new insights into the operations of the federal government makes the task pretty exciting.