Social Media is Not an Online Whiteboard: Know Your Duty to Archive It

Social mediaToo many employers think of their company-sponsored Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, blogs and websites as simply online whiteboards. Splash content up there, take it down. No consequences, no responsibility to keep track of who said what.

But courts won’t be as casual with employers that fail to properly manage their e-archives.

Say an employee argues that a since-deleted photo of her on the company Facebook page is a breach of privacy. Or a customer threatens to sue over an alleged promise he said he saw on your company’s website—but you have no memory of the promise … or a record of it.

Think of social media posts as being email messages by other means. Courts will see it that way. In one case, a judge ruled emphatically that, “This court sees no reason to treat websites differently than other electronic files.” (Arteria Prop. Pty Ltd. v. Universal Funding V.T.O., Inc.) And, by extension, more courts will view employer-sponsored Facebook posts and tweets as a repository of official documents that must be cataloged and saved.

By now, most employers realize they have a duty to retain employees’ email messages. But while email resides on the company server, social media posts are trickier.

Advice: Work with IT to draft policies and procedures on archiving social media content that is sponsored or supported by the company. Assign posting and retention roles to specific employees.

Here are five rules to follow, according to The HR Specialist:

1. Include a statement of record retention on social media sites. Example: “This is the Facebook page for ABC Enterprises. Comments posted on it, and messages received through it, are archived.”

2. Document who approved the creation of a social media account, and who owns the rights to material created for and posted through it. Include social media tasks in a job description so when an employee leaves, the tasks stay with that job, not any one person who might claim ownership of followers or original material.

3. Never simply delete user comments or fan-generated content. Store the comments or additions in a Word document, capturing as much context as necessary for possible future examination.

4. Don’t rely on screenshots as an archiving technique. They produce a picture of content, but not the related functionality, metadata, nor full context.

5. Social media archiving is becoming big business—use it. Providers like ArchiveSocial, Freeze­­Page and Recollect have the means to preserve everything that gets posted. Even free apps like Mozilla Firefox’s ArchiveFacebook and Site­­Sucker for Mac can help. Facebook and Twitter themselves provide steps to download your archives.

Another method: Adjust a social media account’s email settings so notifications of all activity are sent to your inbox.


Contributors: Rob Lentz, editor, and Anniken Davenport, Esq., editor of The HR Specialist: Employment Law.