New social media rules coming for Cambridgeshire county councillors including the warning not to tweet ‘if you are tired or have consumed alcohol’

All 61 Cambridgeshire county county councillors will be asked to agree an extension to their code of

All 61 Cambridgeshire county county councillors will be asked to agree an extension to their code of conduct that covers social media. One key guideline is not to tweet when tired or having consumed alcohol. Picture; ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

County councillors are to be asked to sign up to an extended code of conduct that includes a warning not to blog or tweet if they’ve had one too many over dinner.

Possible pitfalls are explained in a new policy document covering social media that all 61 Cambridgeshire councillors will be asked to agree.

Monitoring officer Fiona McMillan drafted the guidelines for the constitution and ethics committee and these will now be sent to full council for endorsement.

The code tells councillors 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."

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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 will be 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 is 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".

Conversely councillors will be encouraged to "tolerate disagreement-some comments may not accord with your views and deleting the comments of people who disagree with you can backfire.

"The same comments can appear elsewhere with the possibility of linking them back to your site with accusations of gagging."

The warnings over interacting continue with the suggestion that councillors should avoid "the difficult users, don't get bogged down, you don't have to respond to everything. Ignore if necessary".

Members are also reminded that what they say on social media is likely to attract interest from the media and may well result in a news story.

"For example, a throw away comment about a fellow member could result in a big news story that you had not intended which could damage your own reputation and that of the council," says the code.

One other warning to councillors is that they are "personally responsible" for the content they publish and the making an untrue statement about a person may damage their reputation and incur a libel action.

"Social media sites are in the public domain and it is important to ensure you are confident of the nature of the information you publish," says the code.

"Once published, content is almost impossible to control and may be manipulated without your consent, used in different contexts, or further distributed

"Make use of stringent privacy settings if you don't want your social media to be accessed by the press or public. And members are additionally warned not to "send or post inappropriate, abusive, bullying, racist or defamatory messages to members of the public, other councillors or officers either in or outside the work environment".

The council believes the new guidelines are necessary with the increased use of social media to communicate with the public but members must recognise the risks that can damage its reputation.