Last month the local press reported that the most recent meeting of the full council of Luton Borough Council was going to debate some guidance on how Councillors should use the social networking service Twitter.
This is the paper that was presented to Councillors at that meeting on the 16 July 2013:
The paper is an obvious fudge.
From a careful reading I reckon that the true story is probably something like the following;
It seems likely that some members of the Council had objected to other members of the Council’s use of social networking, presumably during meetings, and wanted to ban them from doing this in the future. Whether they objected to what these Councillors were saying or just the fact that they were communicating with the outside world is unknown.
Paragraph 5 in the report even suggests that these Councillors wanted to extend this ban to members of the public attending council meetings;
“Members also suggested that the Mayor at the commencement of a Council meeting be requested to make an announcement to ensure that all mobile phones were switched off and to ensure that elected Members and members of the public refrain from social media access whilst a Council meeting was in progress.”
It would be interesting to know which members of the Council are so keen to restrict freedom of speech and who were the Councillors whose activities on Twitter they so objected to.
Happily it seems that wiser heads, those of other councillors or maybe council officers, prevailed. I presume that, sensibly, they thought it a bad idea for such an attempt to censor the free speech of those elected to represent the community to be allowed to go ahead. So instead they decided to issue “guidance”, the content of which is essentially “don’t be an idiot”;
“That the Council be recommended to ensure that elected Members, whilst attending Council meetings, be cautious and sensitive regarding the content of their tweets or access to social media networks; as the content could bring the Council and its elected Members into disrepute”.
Unfortunately I don’t know what was actually decided at the meeting as the local press hasn’t reported it and, sadly, I haven’t seen any councillor tweet about it!
I’m glad there are some people at LBC who understand an appropriate response to the new world of social media is not to ban things – although disappointed that what was reported to the council wasn’t a more robust defence of free speech.
However, that understanding doesn’t seem to stretch so much to the Council’s lawyers who contributed to the report this wonderfully phrased paragraph of guidance on the legal implications;
“The art of twitting or accessing social media sites would unlikely in itself amount to a breach of the code of conduct for Members. The content of the twit or the material published on social media sites may however amount to a breach of the code.”
This content was originally posted on my old Strange Thoughts blog.