In Alabama, social media records are governed by the state's public records law, which is defined under Title 41, Chapter 13 of the Alabama Code. This law includes all written, typed, or printed materials, such as books, papers, letters, documents, and maps created or received by public officers in the course of public business. Furthermore, under Title 36, Chapter 12, every citizen has the right to inspect and obtain copies of any public writing in the state.
Public records defined.
As used in this article, the term “public records” shall include all written, typed or printed books, papers, letters, documents and maps made or received in pursuance of law by the public officers of the state, counties, municipalities and other subdivisions of government in the transactions of public business and shall also include any record authorized to be made by any law of this state belonging or pertaining to any court of record or any other public record authorized by law or any paper, pleading, exhibit or other writing filed with, in or by any such court, office or officer.
(Acts 1945, No. 293, p. 486, §1.)
Rights of citizens to inspect and copy public writings; exceptions.
Every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute. Provided however, registration and circulation records and information concerning the use of the public, public school or college and university libraries of this state shall be exempted from this section. Provided further, any parent of a minor child shall have the right to inspect the registration and circulation records of any school or public library that pertain to his or her child. Notwithstanding the foregoing, records concerning security plans, procedures, assessments, measures, or systems, and any other records relating to, or having an impact upon, the security or safety of persons, structures, facilities, or other infrastructures, including without limitation information concerning critical infrastructure (as defined at 42 U.S.C. §5195c(e) as amended) and critical energy infrastructure information (as defined at 18 C.F.R. §388.113(c)(1) as amended) the public disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to be detrimental to the public safety or welfare, and records the disclosure of which would otherwise be detrimental to the best interests of the public shall be exempted from this section. Any public officer who receives a request for records that may appear to relate to critical infrastructure or critical energy infrastructure information, shall notify the owner of such infrastructure in writing of the request and provide the owner an opportunity to comment on the request and on the threats to public safety or welfare that could reasonably be expected from public disclosure on the records.
(Code 1923, §2695; Code 1940, T. 41, §145; Acts 1983, No. 83-565, p. 866, §3; Act 2004-487, p. 906, §1.)
The Local Government Records Commission in Alabama issued a revised Records Disposition Authority (RDA) for Municipalities in October 2013 to provide guidance on the preservation and retention requirements for social media records under the public records law. The document specifies the need to capture records of social media sites whenever changes are made, and these records should be classified as “Permanent” for retention purposes. The Resource Manual for Alabama Regulatory Boards and Commissions (Section Eight: Public Records) further confirms that public records include records in all types of media, including electronic format.
18.14 Websites and Social Media Sites. Municipalities develop web and social media sites for responding to public inquiries and providing information on municipal affairs. Material on the site may include information on the municipal affairs. Material on the site may include:
information on the municipality’s location, population, and demography; organization and officials; economic, cultural, and educational resources; and other information describing the
town or city’s “way of life”.
Disposition: PERMANENT RECORD. Preserve a complete copy of the web or social media site annually, or as often as significant changes are made.
The City of Florence has implemented a social media policy that explicitly states the applicability of the Alabama Public Records Law to social media records, which must be preserved as public information. The policy specifies that any social media content associated with City business, including subscriber lists, posted communication, and submitted communication for posting, is potentially a public record that is subject to public disclosure.
V. On-The-Job Use
c. Social media content shall adhere to applicable laws, regulations, and policies, including all information technology and records management policies.
(1) Content is subject to public records laws. Relevant records retention schedules apply to social media content.
(2) Content must be managed, stored, and retrieved to comply with open records laws and e-discovery laws and policies.