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OPINION: City council needs comprehensive social media guidelines

Published on

Tara Jeffrey

City council has approved an amendment to its Code of Conduct that essentially prohibits councillors from saying nasty things about each other and city staff.

Given the political climate at City Hall it likely won’t hold up.

The amendment, approved unanimously on Oct. 24, states that any member of council “shall not make any negative comments or insinuations about staff or other Members of Council.”

It goes on to say that: “Press releases, interviews, social media, and any other communications with the media and the public shall focus on policies and initiatives, not individuals.”

A 21-day notice period means the final vote will take place Dec. 14.

Some outspoken council members have taken to social media to publicly complain about fellow members, including Mayor Mike Bradley, who was found by a scathing workplace investigation report to have bullied and harassed senior staff.

What council really needs is a specific social media guideline like that adopted by other cities, including Guelph.

“Ideally, councils in Ontario should conduct themselves in a manner that inspires public confidence and earns public trust. And their use of social media should do the same,” said Teri Clark, a media strategist at Redbrick Communications. The company provides communications counselling and training to companies, law firms, governments and others.

Redbrick says municipalities should have at least three social media policies: a general policy for all staff (Sarnia currently an employees policy that prohibits staff from publishing “any negative comments regarding the city and/or city employees, volunteers or officials”); a second for ‘designated communicators’ or those who manage municipal social media accounts; and a third policy for elected officials.

“One would hope they follow the same standard that is followed around the council table,” Redbrick noted in a 2012 article, “Social Media & Municipalities: Risks and Rewards.”

“When in doubt, conduct yourself as though you were at a community event within your city’s square — because in a very real sense, you are,” she wrote. “Resist the urge to engage in debates or spats.”

Redbrick says the restrictions should apply to both professional and personal social media accounts.

“If you aren’t 100 per cent sure you want to post something, hit delete,” she advises.

Sarnia would be wise to look into Guelph’s guidelines for elected officials.

They include: “Maintain privacy” (Do not discuss situations involving named, pictured or otherwise identifiable individuals without their permission); “Know the Internet is permanent,” “More isn’t always more,” and perhaps most importantly, “When in doubt, do not post.”




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