State considering FOIA rules for social media posts

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The state plans to consider what its employees and agencies post on social media websites as matters of public record and subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Michigan is working to finalize a policy that is expected to be completed in August, Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget, told the Lansing State Journal for a story published Sunday.

“What the state realizes is like other states, younger generations are getting their messages in other ways, be it Facebook or Twitter,” he said. “So when the state has important information to share, that’s an important avenue we have to look at.”

Lawyer Herschel Fink, who specializes in media law, said it appears the concept is untested in Michigan courts. He said he thinks such activity by government should be considered public record.

“If government and officials are communicating on issues of government policy, using these new means of communication — social media — then the public has to have access to that as well,” he said.

Michigan uses social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the public.

“The whole idea behind FOIA is providing the public with information about all aspects of the people’s business,” Fink said.

How to treat posts by individual officials could stir debate. A Facebook page for a mayor, for example, would be subject to FOIA, Fink said, while that mayor’s personal Facebook page might not. Officials who mix personal and government postings on the same page might be subject to FOIA.

“You cannot blur the line,” he said. “If you use it in any way to communicate as a public official with constituents, you’ve given up any right of privacy.”

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