State, local governments clear legal hurdles to use Facebook

According to an announcement by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) and the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), Facebook has agreed to modify its terms of service so state and local governments can more easily utilize the popular social networking site.

“We are very appreciative that Facebook has addressed the crucial issues that state governments have raised in the standard click-through agreement,” Kyle Schafer, NASCIO president and chief technology officer for West Virginia, said. “We believe this will allow broader and more appropriate use of this important tool by state governments across the country.”

In a report issued last September, NASCIO said that member states were busy organizing their Gov 2.0 strategies, many of which included Facebook pages. But legal hurdles remained a prominent concern for many state CIOs, the survey indicated.

“Terms of service problems have impeded broader use of Facebook and other social media tools, as states push to expand use of the tools to enhance services, openness, and transparency,” said Doug Robinson, NASCIO’s executive director, in a statement. “This agreement will help many states leverage social media tools to enhance communication with constituents.”

Facebook will modify the provisions of its terms and conditions to:

  • Strike the indemnity clause except to the extent indemnity is allowed by a state’s constitution or law
  • Strike language requiring that legal disputes be venued in California courts and adjudicated under California law
  • Require that a public agency include language directing consumers to its official Web site prominently on any Facebook page; and
  • Encourage amicable resolution between public entities and Facebook over any disputes.

“Facebook is becoming an essential tool for democracy, enabling interactive discussions between governments and citizens. We are pleased to have been able to work with representatives from state and local governments in the United States to ensure that they can have a presence on Facebook,” Andrew Noyes, Facebook spokesman, told the Associated Press Wednesday.

NASCIO’s Social Media Legal Workgroup were involved with Facebook in negotiations for over a year, officials said, joining attorneys general from Colorado, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.

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