As more state and local governments are utilizing the internet and social media to reach out to citizens, Washington and 14 other states recently reached an agreement with Facebook that changes the website’s standard user agreement as applied to state and local agencies. In a press release from his office, Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna acknowledged the growing importance of Facebook in helping state agencies and local governments to communicate with constituents.
Nearly a year in the making, the amended terms alter Facebook's standard terms as applied to state and local governments utilizing Facebook Pages for official use. Facebook Pages are different from the average individual person’s profile in that they are intended to promote businesses and other commercial, political, or charitable endeavors. The agreement, already in effect and applied retroactively to governments with an existing Facebook presence, eliminates Facebook’s choice of venue and governing law clauses while limiting a government agency’s indemnification of Facebook for the agency’s actions to the extent permitted in the agency’s jurisdiction. In Washington, the site’s general indemnification terms, protecting Facebook from “claims related to [a government’s] actions, content or information on Facebook,” may apply to local governments and state agencies as these entities generally have authority to contract for indemnification.
While this agreement resolves some issues facing governments interested in developing a social media presence, there will likely be continued growing pains as bureaucratic organizations deal with the increasingly complex electronic world. Local governments will continue to manage concerns on many social media fronts, including public records in cyberspace and user comments on Facebook and Twitter posts.