As a brand-new federal agency, and one whose mission unquestionably involves interaction with the public, the CFPB has fully embraced communication tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  The Bureau has been making “friends” with people at a rate that would make even the most industrious teenagers jealous:  it has been “liked” over 8,800 times on Facebook and is being followed by almost 7,000 people on Twitter.  (This sounds like a lot, but for comparison, consider that Justin Bieber has 11.7 million followers on Twitter.) 

As a government agency, the CFPB has obligations to maintain records of the things it does, online and otherwise.  So, on August 1, the Bureau announced that it is creating a new system of recordsjust to keep track of all the social networking it does.  The system has a very important-sounding name: “CFPB Social Networks and Citizen Engagement System.”  In the Federal Register release related to this new system, the CFPB says that it plans to maintain a word-searchable archive of social media content, including the names, usernames, e-mail addresses and IP addresses of people who communicate with it through these tools.  The Bureau plans to maintain this information “indefinitely” until it has a record retention schedule approved by the National Archives and Records Administration, but will not make its database publicly-available – it will be accessible only by the CFPB and other government agencies.  A recent article on iWatch News highlights the difficulties that many federal agencies have faced in dealing with social media data, so it will be interesting to see if the CFPB encounters similar problems.

One wonders whether the CFPB’s many social networking “friends” realize just how much information is being stored about them, and for how long.  Certainly tweeting the CFPB or posting on its Facebook wall carries some additional implications that aren’t in play when people normally use these communication tools.  Through the “Social Networks and Citizen Engagement System,” the CFPB is a “friend” with a much longer memory than your high school classmates or co-workers.  Or Justin Bieber, for that matter.