The state plans to consider what its employees and agencies post on social media websites as matters of public record and subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Michigan is working to finalize a policy that is expected to be completed in August, Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget, told the Lansing State Journal for a story published Sunday. “What the state realizes is like other states, younger generations are getting their messages in other ways, be it Facebook or Twitter,” he said. “So when the state has important information to share, that’s an important avenue we have to look at.” Lawyer Herschel Fink, who specializes in media law, said it appears the concept is untested in Michigan courts. He said he thinks such activity by government should be considered public record. “If government and officials are communicating on issues of government policy, using these new means of communication – social media – then the public has to have access to that as well,” he said. Michigan uses social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the public. How to treat posts by individual officials could stir debate. A Facebook page for a mayor, for example, would be subject to FOIA, Fink said, while that mayor’s personal Facebook page might not. Officials who mix personal and government postings on the same page might be subject to FOIA
One Michigan senator is presenting legislation that would register journalists with the state, in order to separate “legitimate” news sources from ones that aren’t quite so credible. Michigan State Sen. Bruce Patterson is introducing a law that could regulate reporters similarly to how it regulates other professions such as plumbers and auto mechanics. Reporters who work for what Patterson called “a generally recognized media or press association” who apply for a license and meet criteria including “good moral character” could earn the distinction of “Michigan registered reporter” for a USD 10 fee. Registering with the state would be voluntary. Applicants would have to possess a degree in journalism or other substantially equivalent degree; have no less than three years’ experience as a reporter; and have earned an award or other recognition for their work. Patterson claims citizens are being overwhelmed by the amount of media outlets vying for their attention, and such a license would help to separate the wheat from the chaff. The bill, introduced on May 11, has been referred to the Michigan legislature’s Committee on Economic Development and Regulatory Reform. Patterson admits that he doesn’t believe his bill will become law, but wants to encourage public discussion on the issue.