Are Social Media Posts by Politicians Official Documents?

The US Department of Justice has declared that President Trump’s tweets are official statements of the President – at least in one case. In another, mentioned in the same ABA story, it is saying that they are not, at least to the point that the President can block people from his Twitter account.

What is your view? Are the posts subject to freedom of information laws and official records laws, so that they have to be preserved, they have to be accessible on request, they have to respect privacy rights?

There is a difference between politicians in government with official positions, and opposition politicians. Most ministers or parliamentary assistants in my experience carried two phones, one for ministry business and one for other political matters. (Maybe they had one for friends and family too.)

Ontario’s freedom of information law does not apply to political business but does apply to government business.

I recall that deputy ministers of the Ontario government were instructed from on high that they were to “engage with” Twitter, though it was not explained how. But civil servants are by nature, or at least by training, cautious, and any official use would be subject to various levels of approval, and to bilingualism policies where applicable. Presumably the approval process will leave FOI-able records.

Politicians are less restrained, and of course the current POTUS is not at all restrained. But once in office, they are subject to the rules of office holders, are they not?

So once a politician is elected, is his or her personal social media account no longer his or her own to control? May posts be deleted (if the technology allows it)? May a politician in office use social media that do not ensure, like snapchat, where posts disappear quickly?

Or are all the old rules out the window when social media come in the door?


  1. David Collier-Brown

    I’d suggest that the rules need to set on a per-media basis, derived from

    – previous expereience with similar media, and
    – the things which distinguish the new medium from the old and each other.

    For example, if I use a “disappearing message” service for an official communication, the recipient had bettr know that I’ve just comitted an unfriendly act and preserve the message to use against me. As the _signal_ team say, ” This is not for situations where your contact is your adversary — after all, if someone who receives a disappearing message really wants a record of it, they can always use another camera to take a photo of the screen before the message disappears.”

    If I use it for a general announcement of a new government policy, everyone should know that I’m pretending to be the “Ministry of Truth” from 1984. Ie, that I’m doing evil.

    Therefor, my use of this technology needs to be guided by rules, based on the the distinguishing feature of the technology.

    In this example, it’s easy. A good rule might be “no disappearing message may be used for official purposes save for extraordinary cases, such as communicating with persons whose government would execute them if the message became public”.