Kirklees councillors split over the risks on being active on social media

Some Kirklees councillors believe their personal and professional online accounts should be considered separate.
Some Kirklees councillors believe their personal and professional online accounts should be considered separate.

Councillors in Kirklees are split over the risks presented by being active on social media.

Some believe their personal and professional online accounts should be considered separate.

Others say shouldering the responsibility of public office means accepting that everything falls under scrutiny.

The debate came out of the publication of a report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) relating to standards of conduct of public office holders, including councillors.

Among the CSPL recommendations were an annual review of standards and that councillors “should be presumed to be acting in an official capacity in their public conduct, including social media.”

Kirklees Council resolved to hold a bi-annual review.

And at a meeting of its six-monthly Standards Committee councillors discussed how far the authority should go in presuming elected members’ online posts are considered to be official and not just personal.

The council’s senior legal officer, David Stickley, said there was nothing to stop the authority accepting the recommendation regarding social media.

But there were differing opinions on timescales, particularly when considering historical online posts that might pre-date someone becoming a councillor.

Councillor Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield) said members’ posts “should be deemed official” whether they were made in a personal capacity or not.

He observed: “You could have a situation where a person operates two social media accounts: Councillor XYZ and Mr XYZ.

“Mr XYZ might express comments that are reprehensible and against the Code of Conduct. They are the same person, the same thought process and the same behaviour. Whilst we are taking on public office we are accountable.”

But his group colleague Clr Lisa Holmes (Con, Liversedge and Gomersal) argued for separation.

“If it was written before you were a councillor it’s nothing to do with us [now]. That would be my view.

“The historic bit is what concerns me. People have fallen foul of that and I personally think that is really unfair.

“From the point of standing for election, absolutely. And you should be taken to task if you do something wrong.

“But going back historically, things pop up. What on earth could you do about that? You have no way of protecting yourself.”

Committee chairman Coun Paul Davies (Lab, Holme Valley South) said it was more a matter of addressing patterns of behaviour.

He commented: “If people act in a fair and reasonable manner then we would not have an issue. That is stating the obvious.

“If there is a pattern then that would be sifted out.”

The committee heard that if someone’s social media account was examined and there was a historical matter that caused concern but nothing current, that that would be taken into account based on the nature of the comment.

But it was incumbent on the council to issue clear guidance to members to avoid doubt.