For government agencies, Tweet Delete, Delete All My Tweets, Tweeticide, and similar apps can be a public records nightmare. These tools are designed to help clean up your Twitter account by deleting all of the tweets from your account with a single click, or by automatically deleting all posts older than a specified age. Be warned: if your Twitter account has public records and it’s not being backed up, you may be inadvertently breaking public records law by deleting tweets in bulk.
Twitter can be confusing for government agencies and elected officials. If you are managing a work-related Twitter account, or if you post work-related tweets to your personal account, you’ll find the Best Practices for Local Government Social Media Usage in North Carolina and Best Practices for State Agency Social Media Usage in North Carolina helpful documents to navigate Twitter and other social media accounts. As you apply the information from these guidance documents to your Twitter account, you should be asking yourself the following questions.
1. Are my tweets public records?
If your tweets are made or received in connection with the transaction of public business, they are public records. Note that tweets may be public records regardless of whether they were posted to a private or work-related Twitter account, and regardless of whether they were posted during work hours or during your free time. Determination of whether a Twitter post is a public record is based solely on the fact of whether the post was sent or received by a government agent in connection with the transaction of public business. This includes tweets made by elected officials.
2. If my tweets are public records, can I ever delete them?
Yes, but only in accordance with the law. As public records, your tweets may not be legally deleted or destroyed without the permission of the Department of Cultural Resources. Such permission is granted by the department through published documents called “records retention and disposition schedules”–or “retention schedules” for short. There are retention schedules for state agencies and retention schedules for municipal and county governments. If you are already familiar with these schedules, you’ll know that they list all the types of records created in your office and indicate when each type of record can be destroyed.
3. When can I delete my tweets?
That depends on the content of the tweet. With very few exceptions, records schedules define records according to the content of the record, not its format. Twitter is a type of format, not a type of content. Thus, you will never see an item in your schedule titled “Tweets” that indicates that all tweets must be kept for X-number of years. Rather, you will see items such as “Public Transportation Systems: Route Requests” or “Public Relations Records: News and Press Releases.” If one tweet is a route request from a citizen and a second tweet is a news item (released by your office over Twitter but not elsewhere), the two tweets will have different dates at which they can be deleted.
4. What does this mean for Tweet Delete, Delete All My Tweets, and similar apps?
Any kind of tool that deletes tweets wholesale based on date, without regard to content, risks the illegal destruction of public records. Remember, destroying public records before their retention period has ended is illegal, regardless of whether the records were destroyed on purpose or accidentally.
5. Confused? Let’s look at an example.
The two mock-tweets above are different types of public records. Despite being posted on the same day, the second tweet cannot be deleted as soon as can the first.
The first tweet is a news or press release that hasn’t been posted elsewhere. Thus, it is scheduled on the Municipal Schedule as Public Relations Item #4: News and Press Releases. Items with historical value must be kept permanently, and all other news and press releases can be destroyed when administrative value ends.
The second tweet includes a response from a member of the public requesting a new route at a specific location. It is scheduled on the Municipal Schedule as Public Transportation Item #26: Route Requests. The schedule gives permission to delete these records 3 years after resolution of the request.
6. Is the State Archives archiving my Twitter account?
Maybe. Since 2010, the State Archives has been archiving the social media accounts (and webistes) of state agencies through Archive-It. Select state agency Twitter accounts are also participating in a pilot program using ArchiveSocial. If your state agency Twitter account is not being archived through either, contact us.
The State Archives only archives the social media records of state agencies. Although we do not archive the accounts of local governments, we can provide advice and regarding retention schemes for Twitter accounts.