East Devon District Council

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Policy Social Media Policy

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7. Appendix C - Guidance for Councillors

What to bear in mind

 When you engage online it is important to use your common sense.  The things that can get you into hot water anywhere else are just the same things to avoid in social media.

You are personally responsible for what you publish on social media.  It is important that you think before you publish as words can’t be unspoken.  Even if you delete a hastily fired off blog or tweet, it will probably already have been read and will be indexed or duplicated in places beyond your reach.

Remember that the law of defamation applies to social media in the  same  way as written or spoken communication and people can sue you for damages if they consider their reputation has been or may be harmed.

Be mindful if using social media during an official Council meeting or event that the use does not negatively impact on the proceedings or contravene the Constitution or other Council protocol.

At all times, whether posting in a personal or professional capacity, councillors must be clear whether they are writing as an elected member or private individual.  Including ‘Cllr’ or ‘Councillor’ in a name is taken to mean that the councillor is writing in the capacity as an elected member.  Councillor profiles, websites and use of social media should clearly be either 1) private and personal or 2) in their capacity as a councillor.  This is particularly important as mixing these uses is likely to cause confusion to the electorate.

Members’ Code of Conduct

This applies to your online activity in the same way it does to other written or verbal communication.  You should comply with the general principles of the Code in what you publish and what you allow others to publish.

You will need to be particularly aware of the following sections of the  code and their practical application:

  • Treat others with respect. Avoid personal attacks and disrespectful, rude or offensive comments;
  • Avoid conducting yourself in a manner or behaving in such a way so as to give a reasonable person the impression you have brought your office or the Council into disrepute.
  • Comply with equality laws.  Take care not to publish anything that might be considered as sexist, racist, ageist, homophobic or anti-faith;
  • Refrain from publishing anything which is confidential or breaches the Data Protection Act;
  • Ensure that readers are not misled into believing that any material published by you is on behalf of the Council, authorised by the Council or official Council policy if it is not;
  • Ensure all content that relates to the Council or Council business is accurate, fairly balanced, not misleading and complies with any relevant Council policy;
  • Comply with the terms and conditions of the social media site being used. 

Members of the public (or other members or officers) may make a complaint about you if you contravene the Code of Conduct.  You should also follow the guidance in the Protocol for Relationships between Members and Officers which is contained in Part V of the Constitution and can be found on the Council’s website. This includes media relations.

You should also comply with the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity when publishing material which is hosted by the Council. Section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986 prohibits the publication by local authorities of material which in whole or in part appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party. Local authorities are required by section 4(1) of the Act to have regard to the Code of Recommended Practice in coming to any decision on publicity.

The principles of the Code of Recommended Practice are that publicity by local authorities should be lawful, cost effective, objective, even-handed,  appropriate, have regard to equality and diversity, and  be issued with care during periods of heightened sensitivity [such as election periods]. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/5670/1878324.pdf

Personal use of social media

Councillors should be aware and recognise that there is a risk of damage being caused to the Council via their personal use of social media when they can be identified as an elected Councillor.  This may be by direct identification (because a profile or content expressly states a Council association) or indirect identification (because friends, family or others know the user works for the Council). 

If in respect of any personal use of social media a Councillor can be  identified as associated with the Council by the profile or content then the following guidance should be complied with:

You should:

  • Expressly state (through a prominent disclaimer) on any profile or content that identifies you as a Councillor (or otherwise refers to or implies a relationship with the Council) that the stated views are your own personal views and are not those of the Council;
  • Ensure that readers are not misled into believing that any material published by you is on behalf of the Council, authorised by the Council or official Council policy if it is not;
  • Ensure all content that relates to the Council or Council business is accurate, fairly balanced, not misleading and complies with any relevant Council policy;
  • Comply with the terms and conditions of the social media site being used. 

In addition to the provisions outlined in point 3 of the main body of the Social Media Policy, you must not:

  • Make any comment or post material so as to give a reasonable person the impression that you have brought your office as Councillor or the Council into disrepute;
  • Present political or personal opinion as fact or as representative of the Council;
  • Imply that you are authorised to speak as a representative of the Council nor give the impression that the views you express are those of the Council;
  • Post or publish any material that is harassing or bullying. Harassment may include personal attacks on officers;
  • Publish content that promotes personal/family interests, personal financial interests or any personal commercial ventures.
  • Publish content in a way which appears as if the Council has endorsed it;
  • Publish content in an abusive manner or contravenes the Council’s Acceptable Behaviour Policy;
  • Disclose confidential information, including matters considered under Part B of any Council meeting. If you are in any doubt about this you should first speak to the Monitoring Officer.

Open Access Editable “Wiki” Sites Such As Wikipedia

 Most wiki sites record the IP address of the editing computer. Alterations to such wiki sites may appear as if they have come from the Council itself. You should not act in a manner that may bring the Council into disrepute and should not post derogatory or offensive   comments on any online wiki sites.

Prior to altering any wiki site entry about the Council or any entry which  might be deemed a conflict of interest, you should read the terms and conditions of the site concerned and, if necessary, ask permission from the relevant wiki editor. You should also seek advice from the Communications Team.