Social media records in Mississippi fall under the Mississippi Public Records Act, which mandates the preservation of public records "in use, prepared, possessed, or retained" by any public body, regardless of physical form or characteristics. Therefore, social media records are considered public records in Mississippi.
§ 25-61-3. Definitions
(b) “Public records” shall mean all books, records, papers, accounts, letters, maps, photographs, films, cards, tapes, recordings or reproductions thereof, and any other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, having been used, being in use, or prepared, possessed or retained for use in the conduct, transaction or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty or function of any public body, or required to be maintained by any public body.
The Mississippi Ethics Committee provided guidance on the Public Records Act, indicating that it applies to all documentary materials used in the conduct of any governmental function, including emails. This broad interpretation suggests that social media records in Mississippi may also be considered public records.
Comments to Rule No. 3. 3.1. “Public record” defined.
The statutory definition of a “public record” contains at least three main elements. The document must be: A “documentary material” “used” “in the conduct” of some governmental function.
(1) Documentary materials. A “public record” can be any “documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics.” Section 25-61-3(a). Public records include “all books, records, papers, accounts, letters, maps, photographs, films, cards, tapes, recordings or reproductions thereof.” Id. E-mails are “documentary materials.”
(2) “Used” by a public body. A “public record” is a record “having been used, being in use, or prepared, possessed or retained for use” by a public body. Id.
(3) The “conduct” of a governmental function. To be a “public record,” a document must be used in the “conduct, transaction or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty or function of any public body, or required to be maintained by any public body.” Id. Almost all records held by a public body relate to the conduct of government; however, some do not. A purely personal record having absolutely no relation to the conduct of government is not a “public record.”
A record can be “used” by a public body even if the public body does not actually possess the record. If a public body uses a record in its decision-making process it is a “public record.” For example, if a public body considered technical specifications of a public works project and returned the specifications to the contractor in another state, the specifications would be a “public record” because the public body “used” the document in its decision-making process. The public body could be required to obtain the public record, unless doing so would be impossible. A public body should not send its only copy of a record to a third party for the sole purpose of avoiding disclosure.
Sometimes public body employees work on public body business from home computers. These home computer records (including e-mail) were “used” by the public body and relate to the “conduct” of public business so they are “public records” and are subject to disclosure (unless exempt). Agencies should instruct employees that all public records, regardless of where they were created, should eventually be stored on public body computers. Agencies should ask employees to keep public body-related documents on home computers in separate folders and to routinely blind carbon copy (“bcc”) work e-mails back to the employee’s public body e-mail account. If the public body receives a request for records that are solely on employees’ home computers, the public body should direct the employee to forward any responsive documents back to the public body, and the public body should process the request as it would if the records were on the public body’s computers.
The City of Greenville's social media policy offers guidance on the responsible use of social media networks by its employees. The policy highlights the permanent and public nature of online information, which also applies to social media records in Mississippi. However, the policy does not explicitly mention the public nature of social media records in Mississippi or retention laws. It is important for public agencies to have comprehensive policies that address both the public nature of social media and retention requirements to avoid potential legal risks.
This Policy is intended to provide employees with guidelines for appropriate online activity. Although this Policy cannot address every instance of inappropriate social media use, it is intended to offer guidelines to employees, thereby helping employees to avoid potentially costly missteps online. The nature of the Internet is such that what you “say” online will be captured forever and can be transmitted endlessly without your consent or knowledge. Employees should remember that any information that is shared online instantly becomes permanent and public. Employees should be aware that, while certain types of speech may be subject to protection under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the City does have the right to discipline an employee whose comments may affect the efficiency of the public services by the City.