A little-known but quite true fact is that social media sites are legally obliged to comply with requests for information from the government. This means that private data compiled on users might occasionally have to be provided to Uncle Sam.  While that might seem like overly intrusive official interference, it’s ostensibly designed to provide an extra layer of special protection for both the public at large and private businesses.   The following is an overview of a few such legislated and regulated protective devices that mandate social media archiving by modern commercial entities.

Social media is now commonplace

Online social forums have come a long way since Facebook was first launched by four Harvard fraternity brothers from a dorm room one dark late night in 2004. Nowadays, social media sites have gone far beyond novelty beta stages to becoming a major part of everyday lives. Besides providing near instantaneous mass advertising venues, social media sites also let e-marketers connect and engage customers through various innovative and highly effective channels.

However, these popular innovations that have allowed the world to be more interconnected have a flipside that might cause some concern for all the beneficiaries involved.  That’s because social media is often misused and abused by unscrupulous predators on both sides of the virtual fence post.   As such, social media content and messages are subject to most of the same rules that pertain to email communications.  Moreover, due to ever-present litigation risk exposure, organizations and individuals should regard social media as functionally equivalent to any other electronic method of communicating.   That dictates being forearmed by having a full arsenal of historical archived data standing ready to provide solid backup on your behalf at any point in time.

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is a privately held corporation that functions as a ‘federal proxy’ by enforcing New York Stock Exchange brokerage firms’ legal compliance.

FINRA Regulation #2210

FINRA Rule 2210 titled ‘Communications with the Public,’ sets forth standard guidelines for securities brokers and dealers who communicate with the public.  FINRA recently revised Rule 2210 (d) to define two social media content standards categorized as ‘Correspondence’ and ‘Retail Communication.’  However, a common factor that triggers heightened standards for both categories is communicating with more than 25 “retail investors.”  In such cases, proposed message content must be cleared for publication by social media site operators.

Random spot checks

During mid-2013, FINRA started doing random spot checks to monitor registered member firms’ social media accounts and business-related activities.  Although preliminary results were reported to be mostly positive, FINRA did find some issues that primarily resulted from poor internal oversight and documentation processes.

Securities and Exchange Commission

While FINRA wannabes might work just fine sometimes, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has ultimate regulatory jurisdiction over the entire industry, which includes FINRA.  Ergo, it’s wise to keep all eyes focused on whatever regulations the SEC advises.

SEC rule stipulates preservation of digital records

Simply titled ‘Records Preservation,’ SEC Rule 17(a)(4) was codified via incorporation into the U.S. Securities Exchange Act of 1934, to establish standards for retaining, indexing and accessing data maintained by financial securities brokers or traders.  Pursuant to SEC Rule 17, et seq., firms must retain and index various types of financial records on indelible media that may be immediately accessed for at least six months.  Moreover, such files must be maintained without immediate access for at least two years, with duplicate copies stored off-site.

SEC regulations might apply to all business sectors

Besides obvious examples such as bank statements, checks, balance sheets and budget ledgers, Rule 17 applies to numerous records with relatively nebulous financial relevance.  Consequently, many non-financial industries like energy, manufacturing, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications now face mandatory social media content archival requirements.

Freedom of Information Act

Not to go without mention is the widely touted good intention of the U.S. government’s major impact on social media archival via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).   That huge influence is predicated by FOIA provisions that mandate public disclosure of most federal agency documents.   Nobody should be above the law, including and especially Uncle Sam (at least theoretically). Thus, even the government has gotten its agents and reps into the act of social media content archival to facilitate FOIA compliance.