Sunday, 2 August 2009

Twittergate what it's being called.

Conservative executive member in West Berkshire and Purley-on-Thames representative Cllr David Betts is facing strong criticism after he unleashed a barrage of offensive comments against his political opponents via social-media microblogging network Twitter.

The incident started when Theale's Cllr Alan Macro (LibDem) gave an interview on local radio station 107fm on June 23rd regarding the recently lodged outline planning application for Pincent's Hill and White Hart Meadow.

Cllr Betts wrote the update:
"Woke to Alan Macro talking bollocks on 107FM. Failed to point out we are consulting on housing in Theale, or that it is Government imposed."
Cllr Macro soon responded that Cllr Betts' language was "immoderate, unnecessary and did not conform to his council's requirement to treat people with respect."

The war of words threatened to bubble over into official business, but council leader Cllr Graham Jones refused to take any questions on the potential subject of an official code of conduct when Cllr Betts presented a report into an ongoing review of the authority's ICT strategy.

Cllr Betts was less than penitant when he subsequently sent an apology to Cllr Macro, saying "you have to accept a bit of knocking about on Twitter" and "I've got to ask whether there was really anything to get upset about."

He then fired his second barrel of criticism by taking offence that his apology wasn't acknowledged.

Meanwhile local PR guru Nigel Morgan says 'shame on Cllr Betts' for his bad manners, and wryly notes how the inconsistency in the excuse of the "foul-beaked local politician" given Cllr Betts has "ignored repeated invites to join the debate over his own bad language on Twitter".

The Newbury-based Public Relations professional delved deeper into the episode and highlights Cllr Betts' self-description: "He calls himself a PR Consultant on his Twitter bio, but it doesn’t take a great deal of PR savvy to know becoming the story isn’t such great practice, especially online when it will be around long after..."

Another nugget of information came from Cllr Betts' discussion with ConservativeHome editor Tim Montgomery, in which he was clearly seeking advice on how best to defuse the embarrassment caused. He Twittered: "On reflection, I should not have used the term, for which I apologise. However, mountains and molehills spring to mind."

Nigel Morgan compares Cllr Bett's online habits to that of a stroppy teenager and forcefully argues that this is completely inapropriate for a man in such a senior position in public office - and it is apperently far from being just a one-off slip from a grumpy old man who woke up on the wrong side of bed!

Using the case as an example of bad practice in social media he concludes: "Don’t swear on Twitter. (Especially if you are an elected councillor!)" and "Don’t swear in business... unless you really have to!"

And just to reiterate the consensus view within the industry, Swindon-based Ant Hodges is emphatic: "Swearing does not belong in any professional business context."


  1. Twits and twats come to mind - you work out which is which

  2. People often seem to be less constrained by social convention when they are not communicating "live", especially people who are less familiar with on-line media.

    Without the benefit of feed-back like tone of voice and facial expression sometimes it is difficult to tell if someone is being humorous or insulting, care is needed unless the audience is known.

  3. Absolutely Steve!

    Of cause, the the Collins defence will make any control or prosection very difficult. Especially if councillors use personal blogs to make political commentry.

    I also wonder what implications this will have on Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998?

  4. To all MPs and people in local/national government - don't flatter yourself - most of the time it's only the opposition who's actually listening!


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