Social Media Archiving Laws in California

The state of California currently operates more than 431 social media accounts through public agencies, with over 38 million followers. According to the California Public Records Act, government agencies are obligated to retain public records in any format, which includes social media records. As a result, social media content is considered public information under this law.

California Law Text

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(e) “Public records” includes any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.

(g) “Writing” means any handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostating, photographing, photocopying, transmitting by electronic mail or facsimile, and every other means of recording upon any tangible thing any form of communication or representation, including letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combinations thereof, and any record thereby created, regardless of the manner in which the record has been stored.

California Secretary of State's Records and Information Management Program (CalRIM)

The California Secretary of State's Records and Information Management Program (CalRIM) has released directives that specify the circumstances under which social media records in California should be preserved. The guidelines encourage the use of social media by government agencies to interact with the public and establish criteria for determining whether its usage generates records that must be retained.

Social Media Records Guidance from CalRIM

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One of the challenges presented by social media is the identification of a record. An entry on a social media site might not always constitute a record. The following should be considered when trying to determine if an entry on a social media site is a record:

  • Does the social media content contain information or evidence concerning an agency’s mission or policies?
  • Is the information unique or available elsewhere?
  • Does the social media content contain evidence of official agency business?
  • Does it document a controversial issue?
  • Does it document a program or project that involves prominent people, places or an event?

If the answer to one or more of the above questions is yes, then the social media entry is a record.

Proposition 42 and Government Social Media

In June of 2014, Proposition 42 was passed in California, amending the state constitution and requiring local governments to abide by the California Public Records Act. Additionally, this new law dissolves reimbursement for costs incurred by local governments in fulfilling records requests from the state government. This affects government social media outlets as well.

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California Social Media Records Management in Policy

Public entities across California have been embracing the concept of social media records management. Examples include Palo Alto, LA County, Montague, Fullerton and Concord amongst many others--over 100 cities, counties, and public agencies in total. For example, South San Francisco's official policy outlines the practical implications of such a move: "social media sites are subject to the California Public Records Act."

South San Francisco's Social Media Policy 

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9) City Social Media sites are subject to the California Public Records Act. Any content maintained in Social Media format that is related to City business, including a list of subscribers, posted communication, and communication submitted for posting, may be a public record subject to public disclosure. For Public Records Act requests, please contact the City Clerk’s office directly.

California Assembly Bill 1475

On April 8th, 2021, Assembly Bill 1475 came into effect and was signed by the Governor. This act mandates that booking photos (or "mugshots") of suspects arrested for nonviolent crimes should no longer be publicly available or posted online. This places further regulations on police departments and other law enforcement agencies who have had to remove existing images from their social media channels.  

Be aware of the California Public Records Act when it comes to content deletion on social media pages, as this may involve deleting public records in some cases if they haven't been preserved outside the site. It is highly recommended that organizations store records with a third-party vendor to ensure copies are kept.

Assembly Bill 1475 Law Text 

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“The bill would require a police department or sheriff’s office that shares, on social media, a booking photo of an individual arrested for the suspected commission of a nonviolent crime to remove the information from its social media page, upon request, unless the same specified circumstances exist. The bill would require a police department or sheriff’s office to remove the booking photo of a person who has committed any other crime from social media if the individual’s record has been sealed, the individual’s conviction has been dismissed, expunged, pardoned, or eradicated pursuant to law, the individual has been issued a certificate of rehabilitation, the individual is found not guilty of committing the crime for which they were arrested, or the individual was ultimately not charged with the crime or the charges were dismissed.”

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