State, Local Government Agencies Reach Agreement with Facebook on Legal Concerns

State and local agencies are now more enabled to use Facebook to disseminate information to the public after attorneys general from 15 states reached an agreement with the social network. Specifically, Facebook and representatives of the state worked on the company’s terms of service in order to address legal concerns some of these public entities encountered when using the site.

The deal shows that Facebook is willing to cooperate with governments, meaning future deals regarding other things like government access to private information or compliance with potential privacy legislation might similarly go smoothly.

Facebook could become a more significant way for communities to become closer. In the past, a town newspaper, newsletter, or bulletin board might have held important information about municipal policy and planning. Now these could appear in user feeds.

And yet, just because the Pages are created doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily get popular and therefore be effective.

According to a press release from the Utah Attorney General’s office, a working group consisting of members of the National Association of Attorneys General and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers worked with Facebook to modify the “terms and conditions for state and local government agency use.”

For example, a legal clause in the previous terms of service could have required a state or local agency to pay Facebook’s legal fees if the social network were sued over something on a government Page. In Colorado at least, this violated the state constitution and posed some huge difficulties for government agencies on Facebook. States involved in the recent changes were: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.

The states worked with Facebook in a manner similar to the way the company worked with federal agencies more than a year ago, ensuring that the then-33 agencies could easily provide the public with important information.

To quote the press release, the changes now:

  • Strike the indemnity clause except to the extent indemnity is allowed by a state’s constitution or law;
  • Strike language requiring legal disputes be handled in California courts and adjudicated under California law;
  • Require 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.

These changes will apply immediately to agencies already managing Pages on Facebook, and obviously to future ones.

[Image via Facebook]