I have read with great interest an article and supporting posts about Tameside Councils decision to accredit professional journalists and allow them to tweet live within council meetings and in effect ban anyone else from doing so.
A council in the north of England has taken the unusual step of accrediting professional journalists to report from meetings using Twitter in a move that in effect bans local bloggers.
The decision by Tameside council means that local bloggers, members of the public and even their own councillors are not permitted to tweet because they are not members of the press as defined in law by the Local Government Act of 1972.
via Bloggers excluded from council’s Twitter accreditation | Media | guardian.co.uk.
Now I’m guessing here that Tameside Council may have taken a different view if they were webcasting their meetings live like Devon County Council and many others do.
The use of the Local Government Act 1972 to in effect reduce the ability of even the councillors themselves from tweeting from within the meeting seems a step too far. Details of the Councils Official response can be found here.
Any council who is currently webcasting their meetings would find the same decision impossible to impose, unless they stop webcasting their meetings to the public. The challenge of course in this scenario is that anyone from around the world can effectively tweet live whilst watching the “live” webcast or even comment after the event via the archive.
So I guess my question related to this is: Are we really using the act to manage the supposed abuse of twitter? Or are Tameside Council trying to solve another problem relating to individuals and what they say?
Either way, I am concerned about the longer term implications should other councils see this as a way to “control the message” and restrict the opportunities to engage and participate in local politics and decision-making.
This feels like we are going back to a “behind closed doors” approach which is in my opinion “anti social” and not very “democratic”.
The challenge here is that we need to support councils and more importantly reach the staff working inside to better understand the potential of these tools to increase participation and involvement in local politics and decision making. We also need to have an effective discussion in the wider public sector about the role social tools can play in shaping public services.
Guidelines for Blogging/Bloggers
- If you already have a personal blog or website which indicates in any way that you work at DCC you should tell your manager.
- If you want to start blogging, and your blog/website will say that you work for DCC you should tell your manager.
- If your blog makes it clear that you work for DCC, it should include a simple and visible disclaimer such as “The views expressed here are my own and don’t necessarily represent the views of the County Council.””.
- Find out who else is blogging or publishing on the topic, and cite them.
- Don’t reveal confidential information. This might include aspects of DCC policy or details of internal DCC discussions. Again, consult your manager if you are unclear about what might be confidential.
- You should not use your blogs to attack or abuse colleagues. You should respect the privacy and the feelings of others. Remember that if you break the law on your blog (for example by posting something defamatory), you will be personally responsible.
- If you think something on your blog or website gives rise to concerns about a conflict of interest and in particular concerns about impartiality or confidentiality this must be discussed with your manager.
- If someone offers to pay you for blogging this could constitute a conflict of interest and you must consult your manager.
- If someone from the media or press contacts you about posts on your blog that relate to the DCC you should talk to your manager before responding. The relevant DCC press office must be consulted.
- You are allowed to update your personal blog from a DCC computer at work, [ added 4th June] but should be in your own time under the DCC Social Media and Online Participation Policy.
Guidelines for Managers
- Under these guidelines managers in each area will decide what is appropriate. They should not adopt an unnecessarily restrictive approach. Managers should ensure that any special instructions on blogging are reasonable and explained clearly to staff.
- Managers should bear in mind concerns about impartiality, confidentiality, conflicts of interest or commercial sensitivity. In some cases individuals may be dealing with matters which are so sensitive that rules may have to be set on what they can and cannot talk about on their personal blog.
- Those involved in media relations must take particular care to ensure that they do not undermine the integrity or impartiality of DCC or its output on their blogs. For example those involved in factual areas should not advocate a particular position on high profile controversial subjects relevant to their areas.
- Use the privacy settings available – background information you choose to share about yourself, such as information about your family or personal interests, may be useful in helping establish a relationship between you and your readers, but it is entirely your choice whether to share this information.
- Ask permission before posting someone’s picture in a social network or a conversation that was meant to be private
- Don’t be afraid to be yourself, but do so respectfully. This includes not only the obvious (no ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, etc.) but also proper consideration of privacy and of topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory—such as politics and religion
- This may amount to cyber-bullying and could be deemed a disciplinary offence.
- It is not advisable to invite customers to become your friends in social networking sites for business purposes. There maybe a conflict of interest and security and privacy issues (see notes)
- Use your best judgment. Remember that there are always consequences to what you publish. If you’re about to publish something that makes you even the slightest bit uncomfortable, review the suggestions above and think about why that is
- Ensure that your entries, articles or comments are neutral in tone, factual and verifiable. In addition, there are usually guidelines in sites such as wikipedia on adding links. Read the guidelines carefully before submitting or editing an article.
- DCC staff should therefore act in a manner that does not bring DCC into disrepute and should not post derogatory or offensive comments on any online encyclopedias
- We should not remove derogatory or offensive comments but must report them to the relevant administrators for them to take action.
- They may also need to seek advice from their line manager.
Guidelines for Social Networks, Discussions forums, wikis etc
NOTES: If you wish to use these platforms for business purposes such as participation, engagement and consultation with young people please refer to the “youth participation supplementary policy and guidance” on the source (intranet).
Guidelines for Video and Media sharing
- Ensure that all video and media (including presentations) are safe to share and do not contain any confidential or derogatory information.
- If the content is official and corporate DCC content then it must be labelled and tagged as such and must not be affiliated with an individual.
- Individual work must be labelled and tagged as such and where appropriate a disclaimer used.
As part of the wider work i am getting involved in around Social Media and Social Networking, one of the tasks is to conduct a review and re-write the current internet/email usage policy to incorporate new and social media tools, such as wikis, blogging and social networking.
The aim is to create some overarching or underpinning (depends how you see these things) principles for online participation. This would be supported by (we hope) a robust all encompassing policy (a colleague is doing this bit, i managed to pull the long straw on that one). Below all of this would be some specific guidelines which would signpost relevant materials and existing guidelines where appropriate e.g. for email we would signpost customer service standards for communications.
I thought i would share the links that i have come across, kindly signposted to me by Dave Briggs and Simon Wakeman via Twitter earlier today.
If you are aware of more, then please do share them. I will post ours when they have been approved.