Social media and the Texas Open Meetings Act

The Texas Open Meetings Act promotes transparency between public officials and the general public. First adopted in 1967, the Act makes decisions and meetings of governing bodies more accessible, requiring explicit 72-hour notice of such meetings.

The purpose of the Act is simple: to provide Texas residents with more access to and knowledge of key decisions made by state and local government officials. However, advances in technology and social media have introduced new complications to the Act. As an official or employee of the government, what should you know?

Defining a quorum

According to the Act, a quorum is the majority of a governing body. For example, three members of a five-member city council would qualify as a quorum. If two members of this council met separately to discuss official matters, this meeting could violate the Act.

Social medias role in the Open Meetings Act

The rise of social media has presented challenges for the Act. When city council members discuss public business on any forum or social media platform, such as a Facebook wall, Twitter thread, Snapchat group or more, the Act may apply.

A 2016 paper discussed an example in which a city council member sent a Snapchat advising another member to “Vote yes!” on an item. In this example, the member sending the Snapchat may violate the Act by knowingly sidestepping its provisions and meeting in “numbers less than a quorum.”

A 2013 bill details several standards for officials to compliantly discuss public business on social media. The communication must be:

  • Posted in writing
  • Posted on an online forum that the public can view and search
  • Displayed for at least 30 days
  • Posted on an online message board that is both the governing body’s only message board and displayed prominently on the official website
  • Retained for six years if removed from the board after 30 days

Additional restrictions also apply, including that only certain authorized individuals may post to the forum and that the governing body ultimately may not vote on the forum.

Proceed with caution

Texas law continues to evolve on government use of social media. When in doubt, proceed with caution. A violation can lead to fines, jail time or both. Before implementing an online message board on Facebook or another platform, consider discussing the situation with an attorney to remain compliant with the Act.