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Local government social media records need web archiving too

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While the President and Congress may get all the social media attention, government officials at the state and local levels have also embraced social media with increasing fervor in recent years. In a way, this activity resembles what we can see from Congress: members of state legislatures, mayors, city councils, and county executives communicating with constituents about important local issues.

The give and take is not limited to politicians, though. Much of the interaction is being initiated by rank-and-file governmental groups and their employees.

Thousands of police departments have enthusiastically embraced Twitter and Facebook to advise their communities about public safety matters and even to enlist citizens’ assistance in solving crimes. The Portland (Oregon) Police Department routinely posts appeals for help on “cold case” homicides on the anniversaries of the victims’ deaths, and the Philadelphia Police Department recently made international headlines by working with social media collaborators to identify the suspects in a possible hate crime.

On the lighter side, New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation has used Facebook to announce events, promote lesser-known park grounds, and draw attention to perhaps overlooked features or wildlife that visitors can appreciate. And though big cities’ social media offerings may attract more followers, parks departments in smaller communities are also using it to actively engage residents and businesses.

What has emerged and is only growing larger each day is an organic, often unfiltered record of daily lifethe two-way participatory nature of which has made it inherently more democratic than any legacy paper archive of earlier generations.

The future value of these records to historians, anthropologists, genealogists and other social scientists is incalculable, but right now the vast majority of this data is not being preserved anywhere outside of the internal backup resources of the social media companies themselves. The archivist’s interest in preserving this material is clear.



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