New social media policy for Cannock councillors
Elected community leaders are being urged to keep their personal lives separate from their council business as part of an authority’s new social media policy.
Previously only employed officers' social media activity was covered in a guidance note issued by Cannock Chase Council more than seven years ago.
But now the authority is set to bring in a policy to cover both employees and elected members in order to avoid falling foul of the more negative effects of sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
On Thursday the authority’s cabinet backed the policy and recommended it be approved at a full council meeting.
A report to the cabinet meeting said: "An updated policy is needed as social media use has become widespread and increasingly sophisticated since that first guidance was produced over seven years ago, particularly as members’ use of social media was not covered at the time.
"Therefore, the policy seeks to help members understand how best to use social media, but also how they can avoid some of the pitfalls associated with its use which might cause damage to the council’s reputation.
"Although there are well-known downsides to social media, such as bullying online and its ability to spread misinformation quickly, there are key benefits for councils, employees and members in using social media. Councils, including Cannock Chase Council, are increasingly using social media channels to communicate with residents and other stakeholders in the community.
"In drafting this policy, consultation has taken place with all members, representatives of the council’s trades unions and employees. Responses from the consultation have been incorporated in the policy.
"It includes helpful principles for employees and members when using social media. These include being respectful, being credible and consistent, being honest about who you are, being responsive and being confident."
Councillor Alan Pearson, the portfolio leader for corporate improvement, told the meeting: "It advises members to separate personal business from council work and to say that views they express don’t necessarily reflect the views of the council."
Some councillors from other local authorities across the country have come under fire in recent years for posting or sharing items on social media that could be considered offensive to others.
The new Cannock Chase Council social media policy advises that the authority is not responsible for members’ own accounts – and if they publish information that is untrue about a person and damages their reputation they could face libel action.
Members will also be told they “must refrain from using the council’s logo, or any other council-related material on a personal account or website.”
The policy added: "Members must not engage in activities on the internet that might bring the council into disrepute. This involves making offensive or derogatory comments relating to sex, gender re-assignment, race – including nationality – disability, sexual orientation, religion, belief or age, or to bully another individual."
Council staff are being reminded in the policy that their personal digital activity could have an impact on their professional role or the council’s image and reputation.
The policy said: "Even if you do not expressly name the council as your employer on social media this policy will still apply if a connection with your employment can reasonably be made. Avoid any potential conflicts of interest with your council role.
"The information you post on your social media profile can make you identifiable to service users. This includes setting up an online profile and the use of photographs – especially if you are wearing a council uniform or display an image linked to the council’s work.
"Be aware of who you are directly sharing information with on social media and who you might be a 'friend' to or ‘linked’ with on social media sites."
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