Should Social Media Posts from Lawmakers Be Considered Public Records?

Aug 4, 2017

When an elected official posts on Facebook, is that a public record? That’s the question at the center of a Henrico County case that could have broad implications for freedom of information.

When your state senator posts on Facebook, is that a public record? How about when a constituent replies to a post about pending public business? These were the questions at the heart of a legal case in Henrico County, where open government advocate Brian Davison wants Facebook records of a state senator.

“Whether it’s in a government email inbox or on a private Facebook server, if it talks about your daughter’s birthday it’s not relevant, it’s not public business.”

This week a judge in Henrico ruled that all those Facebook posts your state senator shares, those are all public record — if it’s part of the senator’s public business. Virginia legal expert Rich Kelsey says this case could have significant influence.

“Look, I think this is the opening salvo in a series of court cases that will ultimately find the outer limits of what constitutes a public record with respect to social media.”

Davison’s lawsuit established public records requests could be made directly to senators and that some of their Facebook posts are public records. But the judge also ruled the some of the records on a senator’s official Facebook page, are still secret; if they’re not about a pressing legislative issue.


This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association