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Facebook and States Work Out a Safe Space

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, January 6 2011

Facebook, the company, and the attorneys general from more than a dozen U.S. states have worked together to craft a bespoke set of terms of service, one aimed at turning Facebook, the social platform, into a friendlier place for state and local governments to be. Public CIO's Matt Williams has the story:

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.

Indemnity was the big concern, it seems, and the one that reportedly drove the Colorado AG to warn state agencies off of Facebook. In the terms of service for-the-rest-of-us, that provision holds that users will protect Facebook, the company, from any legal expenses coming from actions triggered by what users post on the platform. The new customized Facebook terms of service amendment for state and local government provides that, if you're a state or local government, that bit of the terms only stands "to the extent [it's] expressly permitted by your jurisdiction’s laws." Indeed, it's not permitted Colorado's state constitution, for one, so that's that.

Facebook, though, claims a little protection back for itself by requiring that state and local governments not present to the public their Facebook page as their official government website, and all the, well, officialness that that would convey. "If you have an official website," the amendment reads, "your Page must contain, in a prominent location: 'If you are looking for more information about [Government Entity], please visit [website URL].'" Other changes including striking a provision requiring disputes to be adjudicated in Facebook's home state of California and under California law, and inserting language about encouraging amicable resolution of disputes that come up between Facebook and state and local governments.

Participants say that the new special terms of service came about after a year's worth of working together by Facebook and the attorneys general of 14 states: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah and Washington. Facebook and the U.S. federal government reached a very similar agreement [pdf] back in 2009.

Even in the places involved in the negotiations, agencies and governments haven't stayed away from Facebook altogether, to be sure. See the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, for example. Or...wait for it...Utah Attorney General Shurtleff. (Shurtleff's Facebook page looks a lot like a personal one, but then again it's linked up on under the heading "Utah State Agencies on Facebook.")

But the tailored set of terms of service Facebook has opted to create for state and local governments gives those institutions a little extra assurance that Facebook is a safe place for them to be, and could indeed lead to the creation of even more official government presences on the privately-owned information platform.

(via Phoebe Connelly)