The state of Missouri follows two different chapters of the Missouri Revised Statutes to govern social media records. According to Chapter 109, Public and Business Records, records can be defined as any material, including electronic records, such as documents, books, papers, photographs, maps, and sound recordings, regardless of their physical form or characteristics.
(5) “Record”, document, book, paper, photograph, map, sound recording or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or in connection with the transaction of official business.
The Missouri Sunshine Law, also referred to as the second statute, is based on Chapter 610 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, which covers Governmental Bodies and Records. According to the Missouri Attorney General, the Sunshine Law represents the state's dedication to transparency in government. The law applies to all meetings and records, regardless of their format or how they are conducted.
The Missouri Secretary of State has provided guidelines for social media as public records, stating that social media content may fall under the definition of public record, and that agencies using social media are responsible for maintaining these records according to retention schedules. Additionally, the guidelines specify that agencies cannot depend on social media platforms to keep records and must export or capture social media records themselves.
Records Retention and Sunshine Requests
Agencies should not rely on social media sites to retain their documents, as that responsibility lies with the agency. Posts, comments, polls, photographs and other content may be considered records. Agencies should identify staff whose responsibility it is to ensure these records are exported from the social media site or captured in some other way.
Retention periods for records can vary from one day to permanent/transfer to the Missouri State Archives. The retention time will depend on the content of the record. If an agency is unsure how long a record needs to be retained state agencies should refer to the Missouri General Retention Schedule, their Agency Records Disposition Schedule or contact the Division of Records Management. Local agencies should refer to their Records Retention Schedules or contact the Local Records Division. Some social media sites give users the ability to export their information, while others require the use of third party tools. The responsibility to maintain the records resides with the agency, not the social media company.
In 2018, the City of Kansas City, MO established a social media policy that governs all social media accounts operated by city departments or on behalf of the city. The policy highlights the benefits of social media use for city agencies, but also emphasizes that social media sites are subject to both public records laws and retention laws in both the city of Kansas City and the state of Missouri.
C. Records Retention
1. Public Records
a. City of Kansas, City, Mo., social media sites are subject to State of Missouri public records laws as well as state retention law and relevant City of Kansas City, Mo., records retention policy.
b. Departments that create social media sites are responsible for the maintenance of the site and associated records and shall respond completely and accurately to public records requests for public records associated with their social media site and activity. (See Code of Ordinances section 2-115 for specific information regarding open meetings and records).