Facebook has tweaked its terms of service to address concerns from state and local governments about their usage of the popular social media website.

State and local governments had been concerned that under the previous conditions they would have to pay the company’s legal fees if Facebook was sued because of content posted by an agency onto the website. The revised terms, announced Wednesday, Jan. 5, address that and other issues brought by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) during more than a year of discussions with the social media powerhouse.

According to NASCIO, the revised terms and conditions:

  • 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 website prominently on any Facebook page; and
  • encourage amicable resolution between public entities and Facebook over any disputes.

     

Kyle Schafer, NASCIO president and West Virginia chief technology officer, said the organization believes the agreement “will allow broader and more appropriate use of this important tool by state governments across the country.” NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson added via a statement that terms-of-service problems “have impeded broader use” of Facebook and other social media tools by states.

Attorneys general from Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington state and several others, as well as the National Association of Attorneys General and NASCIO’s Social Media Legal Workgroup participated in the yearlong discussions with Facebook.

Colorado took perhaps the most visible stance against Facebook. The state attorney general discouraged agencies from launching their own pages because the terms of service were believed to violate the state constitution. “A handful of states took similar positions, although not so visibly as Colorado,” said Charles Robb, senior policy analyst for NASCIO.

But “the horses were out of the barn” in many states, Robb said, because individual agencies had already begun launching their own Facebook pages.

When states began discussing concerns about social media 18 months ago, there was broad concern among state-level lawyers who worked in procurement, CIO office and other business lines, Robb said. State governments at first thought Facebook would treat them similarly as the federal government, which signed its own agreement with the company by working through the General Services Administration.

But Facebook wanted different terms, Robb said, which resulted in the long-running discussions.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said the state was pleased that the company responded to states’ concerns. “We look forward to continuing to work with Facebook and starting a new dialog with the people of Colorado through the company’s website. Social media is a great way to keep the public apprised of the important work we and other public entities do on behalf of the people of Colorado.” The Colorado Office of the Attorney General will open a Facebook page soon, the state said.

Facebook currently has more than 500 million users worldwide, according to company statistics. The privately held company was recently valued at $50 billion.

NASCIO is working to strike similar terms-of-service agreements with other social media companies. YouTube is a high priority, Robb said.

Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor