Washington Public Records Act & Social Media Law

The Washington Public Records Act mandates that public agencies retain public records irrespective of their physical form, including digital records generated via social media, along with the metadata associated with such records.

Since July 1, 2014, all appointed and elected officials at the state and local levels in Washington must undertake training to comprehend and implement open meetings laws and public records. The Office of the Attorney General provides online resources for training.

Washington Law Text

plus iconminus image

(1) “Agency” includes all state agencies and all local agencies. “State agency” includes every state office, department, division, bureau, board, commission, or other state agency. “Local agency” includes every county, city, town, municipal corporation, quasi-municipal corporation, or special purpose district, or any office, department, division, bureau, board, commission, or agency thereof, or other local public agency.

(3) “Public record” includes any writing containing information relating to the conduct of government or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics. For the office of the secretary of the senate and the office of the chief clerk of the house of representatives, public records means legislative records as defined in RCW 40.14.100 and also means the following: All budget and financial records; personnel leave, travel, and payroll records; records of legislative sessions; reports submitted to the legislature; and any other record designated a public record by any official action of the senate or the house of representatives.

(4) “Writing” means handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostating, photographing, and every other means of recording any form of communication or representation including, but not limited to, letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combination thereof, and all papers, maps, magnetic or paper tapes, photographic films and prints, motion picture, film and video recordings, magnetic or punched cards, discs, drums, diskettes, sound recordings, and other documents including existing data compilations from which information may be obtained or translated.

Washington Governor's Guidelines for Social Media Records

The Office of the Governor in Washington references social media records regarding the Public Records Act, and assigns the duty of capturing and preserving those records to the agencies responsible for their creation.

Read the Governor's Guidelines

plus iconminus image
  • The agency recognizes that all content published and received by the agency using social media in connection with the transaction of the agency’s public business are public records for the purposes of Chapter 40.14 RCW (Preservation and destruction of public records).
  • The agency remains responsible for capturing electronic copies of its public records made or received using social media, including those records made or received using third-party websites
  • The agency must establish mechanisms/procedures to capture and retain public records made or received using social media.

Precedent for Maintaining Electronic Records Legally

The Supreme Court of Washington established in the O’Neill v. City of Shoreline case of 2010 that metadata, which is data that explains and identifies other data, is public information and is subject to the Public Records Act.

Case Text

plus iconminus image

This case allows us to consider whether metadata is a public record that must be disclosed under the Public Records Act (PRA), chapter 42.56 RCW. This is a matter of first impression before this court. We affirm the Court of Appeals and hold that metadata associated with public records is subject to disclosure under the PRA.

Washington Social Media Records Management Policy

Local governments in Washington, such as the City of Seattle and the City of Olympia, are setting an example for effective management of social media records by integrating compliance with the Washington Public Records Act and other public records laws into their social media policies.

View Seattle's Social Media Policy

plus iconminus image

6. City of Seattle social media sites are subject to State of Washington public records laws. Any content maintained in a social media format that is related to City business, including a list of subscribers and posted communication, is a public record. The Department maintaining the site is responsible for responding completely and accurately to any public records request for public records on social media. Content related to City business shall be maintained in an accessible format and so that it can be produced in response to a request (see the City of Seattle Twitter, Facebook and CityLink standards). Wherever possible, such sites shall clearly indicate that any articles and any other content posted or submitted for posting are subject to public disclosure. Users shall be notified that public disclosure requests must be directed to the relevant departmental public disclosure officer.

7. Washington state law and relevant City of Seattle records retention schedules apply to social media formats and social media content. Unless otherwise addressed in a specific social media standards document, the Department maintaining a site shall preserve records required to be maintained pursuant to a relevant records retention schedule for the required retention period on a City server in a format that preserves the integrity of the original record and is easily accessible. Appropriate retention formats for specific social media tools are detailed in the City of Seattle Twitter, Facebook and CityLink standards.

View Olympia's Social Media Policy

plus iconminus image

All content added or uploaded to City of Olympia social media sites will be periodically reviewed by City staff. All content on City of Olympia social media is considered a public record. For that reason, users should refrain from including telephone numbers, home addresses, email addresses, and any other private information in the body of their comment.

plus iconminus image

plus iconminus image