Lists of Accounts Public Entity Blocked from Social Media Subject to FOIA
In a recent advisory opinion, the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor found that records of users the Village of Orland Park blocked from its social media accounts are public records subject to release under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. The decision reiterates that a public body’s conduct on social media can be public business. Even if the social media platform technically maintains the only records of the public body’s actions, those records are public records subject to FOIA. Merely pulling the records from Facebook or Twitter does not constitute “creating” a new record under FOIA.
In 2020 PAC 63566, the Village of Orland Park blocked an individual from the Village’s Twitter account. The blocked user requested a list of all users “banned or blocked from the Village’s social media accounts, including Twitter and Facebook.” The Village denied the request. The only record of the blocked accounts is on its social media pages, it said. Facebook and Twitter created, maintained, and controlled those pages, not the Village. Accordingly, the Village argued that any records on the account are not “public records” under FOIA. Further, no “list” of the records exists, the Village claimed. Compliance with the FOIA request would require the Village to “create” a new record to respond to the request, which the FOIA does not require.
The PAC disagreed and directed the Village to turn over the records. The Village conducts public business through its official social media accounts. Therefore, records relating to those accounts are public records relating to the transaction of public business. As the account owner, the Village controls and manages the account, not Facebook and Twitter. The Village also chooses which users to block from its social media accounts. When it blocks a user, the social media platform memorializes that action in a list of blocked users accessible through the social media account. Merely accessing existing information on the Village’s accounts does not require the Village to create or compile a new record. For all these reasons, the PAC determined that the lists are public records subject to FOIA.