Facebook gets friendlier for state, local organizations

NASCIO, state attorneys general negotiate new terms of service for agencies

Facebook has revised its terms of service for state and local government agencies by removing several barriers that had been impeding those agencies from using the social media network, officials announced Jan. 5.

Among other changes, Facebook has agreed to remove a requirement that any legal disputes with the agencies be adjudicated in California courts under that state’s laws, and to modify an indemnity clause.

The agreement on revised terms with Facebook on behalf of the agencies was negotiated by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) Social Media Legal Workgroup and the National Association of Attorneys General.

The modifications will immediately apply to state and local government agencies already on Facebook, NASCIO said in a news release.

“We believe this will allow broader and more appropriate use of this important tool by state governments across the country,” Kyle Schafer, NASCIO president and West Virginia CTO, said in the release.

Doug Robinson, NASCIO’s executive director, said legal problems were among the most important barriers to broader social media adoption identified in NASCIO’s survey of social media use in state government published in September 2010.

According to the NASCIO survey, the legal issues involve indemnification, jurisdiction, choice of law, advertising, endorsement, assignment, and intellectual property, among others. Many states have found these issues to be significant barriers to using Facebook and other social media and aren't able to use those tools unless solutions are found, the study said.

“There is an amazing amount of discomfort with the standard terms,” Charles Robb, senior policy analyst with NASCIO, told GCN.

Even so, states are moving into social media applications and believe them important, Robb added.

“I think it is already important, but it is becoming more important. Particularly in the area of public safety, there is an awful lot of interest,” Robb said. “For the time being, most states are using it only cautiously.”

To begin the negotiations, NASCIO and the attorney generals used the General Services Administration’s terms of service agreement with Facebook as a starting point.

“We took the federal model for Facebook and tweaked it for state government,” Robb said.

About the Authors

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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