Tory councillor Samantha Hoy calls new social media guidelines ‘scary’ as county council agrees to look again at how to monitor what councillors Tweet
PUBLISHED: 14:36 24 July 2019
Cambridgeshire county councillors have rejected suggested council social media guidelines, which included advice against criticising the council.
Councillors were asked to approve new guidance which would apply to their use of social media at full council session yesterday (July 23).
Included was guidance against browsing "any material that could be considered inappropriate, offensive, defamatory, illegal or discriminatory".
Conservative councillor Samantha Hoy of Wisbech, who brought the amendment to think again on the plans, said some of the guidance was "scary" and could intrude into councillors private lives.
Liberal Democrat councillor Amanda Taylor said it "risks undermining basic rights such as freedom of expression and the right to a private life".
The guidance also asked councillors not to post anything that "could reasonably be perceived as reflecting badly upon or lowering the reputation of you as a councillor or the council."
A note was added saying "it is expected that councillors will engage in political discourse".
Cllr Taylor told the chamber: "As councillors it's our job to monitor what the council does and present it to our residents - we all have a role as a critical friend".
She said residents would expect councillors to "give an honest view" of what the council does.
Also included was guidance not to tweet in haste when tired, to double check facts are accurate, and to "avoid the difficult users, don't get bogged down, you don't have to respond to everything".
Cllr Taylor said some of the guidance was "patronising".
Cllr Hoy said it was "unenforceable". "Who defines what's tired? How would you ever police that," she asked.
The council voted to revise the guidance, which had been agreed by the constitution and ethics committee last month.
The council's deputy leader, Conservative Roger Hickford, said: "I understand a lot of the concerns. I'm very happy to look at this again and try to make it look more appropriate".
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Monitoring officer Fiona McMillan drafted the code which urged members not to "blog or tweet in haste, particularly in circumstances where your judgement might be impaired; for example, if you are tired or have consumed alcohol".
Included in the code is the warning not to use Twitter or Facebook to express personal or political views as being those of the council.
"Do not browse, download, upload or distribute any material that could be considered inappropriate, offensive, defamatory, illegal or discriminatory," says the code.
"Do not, in your role as a councillor, use social media to promote personal financial interests. This includes the promotion of particular commercial activities that council representatives may have an interest in."
The document reminds councillors to make clear the difference between when they are writing in an official capacity "so that expressions of personal opinion are appropriately distinguished.
"For the avoidance of doubt, do consider keeping your personal and political accounts separate or where this is inconvenient use clear expressions of intent such as 'speaking entirely personally' or 'the views expressed here are my personal opinion'."
Councillors were urged to install "appropriate privacy settings" for personal accounts.
"Do ensure your official use of social media is compliant with the members' code by ensuring that your profile and any content are consistent with the council's professional image and obligations," says the code.
For instance, it says, "treat others with respect. Do not use social media in any way to attack, insult, abuse, defame or otherwise make negative, offensive or discriminatory comments about residents, council staff and services, other members and/or organisations".
Members are also urged not to leave on their websites or social media pages comments made by others which may be equally damaging or defamatory.
"Comply with equality laws-do not publish anything that might be seen as racist, sexist, ageist, homophobic or anti-faith," the code states.
"Never bully or harass anyone -do not say anything, particularly if it is part of a series of similar comments about a person or on a theme that might be construed as bullying or intimidation.
"Do not bring the council into disrepute -you should not publish anything that could reasonably be perceived as reflecting badly upon or lowering the reputation of yourself or the council."
In a reference to old tweets coming back to haunt politicians, the code invites councillors to be "mindful that what you publish will be in the public domain for a long time and can't be easily retracted once published".
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