Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Round-up: Discussing Appropriate Social Media Behaviour

Almost as if on cue, Cllr Willis raises the issue of a mooted code of conduct for politicians and their use of social media.

He cites the current state of regulation, as covered by the current councillors code of conduct and libel laws, before asking - somewhat rhetorically - whether his blog should be regulated. He then goes on to argue - somewhat contradictorily - that anything which seeks to constrain freedom of expression should not be to the detriment of the public interest.

He says that changes proposed by Thanet council seem to set a 'heavy-handed' precedent and adjudges them premature.

However, with Whitehall recently having published a 20-page document governing the use of Twitter [ref], a number of local proposals around the country addressing the issue ahead of the Standards Board for England's consideration of new statutory measures at its national conference in October [ref] and Japan using electoral law to control public communications during forthcoming elections [ref] (among many others), the matter could hardly be more current.

In Berkshire there have been a number of cases where behaviour isn't exemplary, and the issue of anonymous comments by members of all sides (including on this site) means that transparency and accountability aren't always absolute.

Primary among examples is Cllr Swaine's MuckspReading which provided a regular diet of satire and spoofs. Although a standards board hearing concluded the present code did not apply in that specific case the site was voluntarily discontinued as it was clearly becoming a conflict of interest as he became an active voice on council committees.

Meanwhile Cllr Swaine identifies another casualty of the fray.

He describes Tyler's World Of Reading as a "Standard Tory rant masquerading as humour", which was signed off by it's author (the pseudonymous self-styled voice of the ordinary oppressed common man, 'Wat Tyler') in a move which he states "will become apparent in good time."

Reading List understands Andrew Waters intends to restand as the Conservative councillor candidate for Abbey Ward, but was reminded of previous online indiscretions and therefore decided to avoid causing further damage to his side.

According to Jane Griffiths' inside information Labour activists have been officially warned off engaging with the public through social media, though whether this is because they fear additional electoral damage to that suggested by polls or because the party bosses don't trust their ordinary members is not known.

More generally Gil S provides an interesting discussion of the issues from a non-partisan Quaker perspective. She notes how Facebook and blogging require a strategic vision, concluding that it is better to be safe than sorry as it is impossible to know exactly what effect words may have on those who hear them.

Meanwhile Theale Village provides a succinct introduction to Twitter, arguing that there is always value in any communication however small, and inferring that education is the only real way to raise standards and get best value from the service.

Elsewhere in the professional sphere a whole industry has been built out of providing advice on how and what to say through social media communication channels - any of which should be consulted by a hesitant n00b.

Nikki Pilkington rounds up the three main areas of social media with a collection of links including some of the pitfalls.

Maidenhead-based eCommerce professional James Gurd gives an excellent summary of the main concepts to grasp when using social media, Aldermaston communications expert Graham Jones shows his unswerving expertise by describing how to make it work for you, while Wokingham's nationally reknowned communications guru Neville Hobson provides a collection of best practices.

The name of the game is relationship-building, and that means a bit of give and take on each side - Ant Hodges recalls a talk given by Grant Leboff to a Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce lunch, while Nigel Morgan singles-out the bad netiquette of one Newbury estate agent for a free lesson (learnt).

Carloyn Williams and tinnion are clearly worried about the distancing effect, but agree that spreading a bit of positive charisma is the best way to get your personality across, while Katharine Robinson reminds us that not everything can be policed or controlled.


Jim Anning helpfully resorts to diagrams to show us what he means.


  1. This code of conduct seems a little undemocratic; surely councillors are sensible enough to know when they have gone too far. As for other blogs like this one and Bracknell Blog for that matter. These should not be policed as what is the point if you cant report the feelings of individuals. Could be policed, I think not!

  2. it's neither actually - some of it is to do with my blog but most of it is to do with the fact that those in charge put so much work into getting the dead tree media in their pockets that they cannot now cope with anything which cannot be controlled. But it is true, they have been told not to blog.

  3. "Reading List understands Andrew Waters intends to restand as the Conservative councillor candidate for Abbey Ward, but was reminded of previous online indiscretions and therefore decided to avoid causing further damage to his side."
    Well, at least spoke his mind as we should all be able to! As for "damage to his side", well only you seem to assume this! The only side damaged from what I saw on the blog was Labour (and the Lib Dums occasionally)

  4. Orangepan

    A truly interesting but worrying debate.

    Once such organisations as the Standards Board of England become engaged in the formulation of statutory measures to control our freedom of speech, we are moving into very dangerous territory.

    It seems to me that the main reason that this whole debate kicked off in the first place is that certain members of the current administration couldn’t take a little satire at their expense.

    God knows what they would have done to me if I had been elected at this time.

    Politics is a full contact sport, and those that enter the fray have to accept that. Our right to criticise and have a little fun should in no way be the subject of legislation.

    Finally & just to set the record straight. I stopped writing the Tyler Blog because I need to devote my time to supporting the Conservatives in the run up to the General Election , it was my decision & I was not the victim of any coercion. In terms of past indiscretions, well, that is the nature of public writing & you live with it. The right to say what you think is one of the most precious elements of living in a democracy, lets protect it at all costs.

    Andrew Waters

  5. I can understand a Council having a Standing Order that says, "Thou shalt not Twitter during a Debate" or whatever (and I wish my company would have something similar for BlackBerrys in meetings!) but that's to do with basic good manners. It shouldn't need to be said, but if it must then that is as far as it should go. No-one outside the writer and the libel laws should have any say over what is written, be it on the blogosphere or anywhere else. The Standards Board should have no say in the matter.

    Serious Question: Where the hell did the Standards Board come from? I had never heard of it until a few years ago, and now it seems to be throwing its weight about all over the place. Worse still, some councillors even report other councillors to it, which is, in my opinion, contemptible. Who is on this Standards Board, what powers does it have and who is it answerable to?


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