OOR DETERMINATION – SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS

On August 16, 2017, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (“OOR”) issued a final determination in the matter of Noel Purdy v. Borough of Chambersburg.  The case involved a Right to Know Request submitted by Purdy seeking, inter alia, “copies of all Facebook posts and associated comment threads from [the Borough Mayor’s] public figure Facebook page… this is to include all related posts and comments that have been deleted from the Facebook page.”  The Borough initially denied the portion of the request relating to the Borough Mayor’s Facebook account, stating that these posts constituted private social media activity and that the posts on the account were not records of the Borough.  In Purdy’s Appeal, Purdy claimed that the Mayor had both a public figure account and a private account, and she further indicated that she was only seeking posts on the Facebook page that had been used by the Mayor in his official capacity.

In its determination, OOR found that the Mayor’s public Facebook account was linked to the Borough’s official website.  Additionally, OOR further held that the Borough Mayor’s public Facebook page stated that he was a “Public Figure in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.”  The page contained discussions and posts regarding activities within the Borough, including those relating to the police department and councilmembers, and contained contact information for the Borough.  Ultimately, OOR held that the Mayor’s public Facebook page constituted a record within the meaning of the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law, and found that Facebook posts, associated comments, and messages sent via Facebook’s Messenger application regarding matters of public concern were subject to disclosure under the Right to Know Law.

It remains to be seen whether the Borough will appeal OOR’s determination.  However, in the meantime, public officials should be cognizant of the material posted on their public Facebook pages and should remember that any information touching on public concerns posted on these pages could be subject to disclosure under the Right to Know Law.  Please contact a member of Maiello, Brungo, and Maiello’s Public Sector Law team with questions.