Gov. Rick Scott’s team struggles to put social media in the sunshine


The St. Petersburg Times/ Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau Writer

TALLAHASSEE — As Gov. Rick Scott’s team increasingly relies on social media to drive debate on his legislative agenda and deliver an unfiltered message to supporters, the 21st century technology is colliding with state public records laws.

Scott and his team have posted 151 messages on Twitter and received thousands of comments on 52 separate Facebook page posts in the 10 weeks since he’s taken office.

But Scott’s staff has struggled with how to handle those messages: Should each post be catalogued? Must the office record every Facebook comment from the public before the original poster deletes it? Can comments be deleted?

“Sunshine Laws do not anticipate the real-time free-flow of all this information on a constantly public forum,” Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said.

In 2009, then-Attorney General Bill McCollum issued an opinion advising that governments with official Facebook pages were obligated to follow normal public records retention schedules under law.

But Burgess said his office is not planning to retain most posts or comments. Instead, the office is planning to monitor the sites and delete posts with curse words, racial slurs or other comments deemed offensive. Those deleted posts along with direct messages not available to the public will be recorded by the Governor’s Office and remain available to the public at request, Burgess said.

No other messages will be recorded.

“We’re being asked to push the envelope a little bit from a communications perspective to get the message out,” Burgess said. “We don’t have the time to record every post on the site.”

The social sites are crucial for Scott’s team: It used Facebook to announce a delay of SunRail contracts, and comments helped staffers understand many people don’t know the difference between the commuter line set to be built around Orlando and the Central Florida bullet train Scott has refused to build. Burgess said that information will help them craft their next message about SunRail.

Florida’s elected chief financial officer, Jeff Atwater, said his office has discussed taking a daily screen shot of its official Facebook page and archiving it.

Atwater said the office has received information from citizens about claims related to the BP oil spill and fraud investigations.

“Some of this might turn out to be a valuable source of data for us,” Atwater said. “But we believe there is a responsibility to retain that form of communication. And as it becomes more prevalent, we’re going to have to figure that out.”

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Michael C. Bender can be reached at mbender@sptimes.com. Follow him on Twitter@MichaelCBender.