Since last year, we've been watching ArchiveSocial, a North Carolina startup that helps municipal agencies archive their social media activity. This year, we became convinced that what they do – enabling agencies to respond completely and easily to public records requests related to social media activity - is absolutely essential to law enforcement.
Police agencies around the country have embraced Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites/services as easy and inexpensive ways to step up community engagement and agency transparency.
From agencies as large as the Los Angeles Police Department (@LAPDHQ) to small agencies like Rosenberg PD in Texas (@RosenbergPolice), there is value to be gained by maintaining a social media team. For Rosenberg, it's been a publicity boon, with several viral messages and lots of community and worldwide engagement. The Philadelphia Police claim to have solved more than 200 crimes using their social media account.
A Hidden (and Expensive) Danger
Most of the articles advising cops about social media look at the kinds of public relations gaffes that typically undermine or embarrass an agency. Consider NYPD’s disastrous #myNPYD campaign last April — it was hijacked by people posting photos of NYPD misbehavior and complaints of over-reach.
But a far more damaging and expensive danger exists that should be taken into account by all law enforcement agencies with, or considering, a social media presence: public records requests.
If the ‘Tweet’ is the document of the 21st century, the responsibility of police agencies to produce documents under public records requests has just gotten more intense.
As it happens, it is rather difficult to archive one's own tweets – because in a Twitter conversation, both sides are arguably part of the discussion, and a public records request seeks the entire discussion. Should the user delete his comments, your agency would be unable to respond to the request.
This is not an esoteric risk; in late April, a citizen requested of the Seattle Police Department the entirety of its Twitter feed including metadata – metadata that SPD was ultimately hard-pressed to recreate. To law enforcement agencies, these kinds of requests can be hugely costly – SPD estimates it gets 4000 such requests per year.
And it's not as if citizens haven't tried to take advantage of our lack of technology or in some cases willingness to respond — consider the Chandler Brothers of Florida, who travel the state asking to see documents required to be available under Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law.
When they request to see, for example, the visitor log at a station, and are denied, they sue the agency, which often is forced to consider settlement. They’ve done this about 100 times — Joel Chandler says he does it full time.
ArchiveSocial backs up an agency’s social media activity with a cloud-based service. This service then allows agencies to search for, and print, its activity.
It is a real-time curated collection of all of the events as they unfolded on social media, so you can go back later and do an analysis (especially useful for timeline requests such as those tied to the Oso mudslides). Even if users delete their comments, ArchiveSocial maintains the true copy of how it unfolded at the time, enabling compliance.
ArchiveSocial charges by activity, so it starts cheap and grows as you need it to. We like its civic mission, and the fact that it sets up literally in minutes and runs as a totally managed service. Have a look at the ArchiveSocial website http://archivesocial.com/ .
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