Councillors warned to beware fake news online

Up-to-date social media advice for councillors warns them to be alert to fake news and “bots”.

Social media protocols were last agreed in 2017, a long time in the ever-changing online world.

The new protocol takes out outdated terms and also includes guidelines for WhatsApp.

A draft of the new guidance is going before the Audit and Standards Committee which meets at Portslade Town Hall on Tuesday 23 July.

It states the guidance will help councillors “avoid legal and reputational risks inherent in the use of social media”.

The guideline say: “The key message is that your online activity is subject to the Members’ Code of Conduct whenever you are – or appear to be – acting in your capacity as a councillor or otherwise representing the council, this rather than acting as a private individual.”

Councillors are warned to be aware of fake news and the potential for hacking into “sensitive party accounts”.

It also warns of automated “bot” accounts, which can be used to spread fake news.

The guidance also includes a basic guide to legal issues including libel and copyright.

Councillors are advised: “Putting ‘these views are my own’ as a disclaimer on your social media profile will not offer you any legal protection.

The protocol said: “It will not prevent you from legal action or from complaints that you have breached the Code of Conduct for Members, nor from it preventing the reputation of the council from being damaged.”

Under the code of conduct councillors are advised to treat others with respect and refrain from making personal attacks or indulging in rude, disrespectful or offensive comments.

They should comply with equality legislation, not bully or intimidate anyone, not bring the council into disrepute, respect the impartiality of officers and not disclose confidential or exempt information.

Using phones during meetings discreetly is also advised so the public does not think they are used for personal use.

The authority is required under the Localism Act to make sure councillors keep up high standards of conduct on social media.

It also deals with any complaints from the public about a councillors behaviour and comments on social media platforms.

Ahead of the 2019 election campaign Conservative candidate Ivor Lyons stepped down due to jokes shared on Facebook.

Former Labour candidate Alex Braithwaite was suspended from the party for posts on her Twitter account after the deadline for withdrawing nominations.

The Audit and Standards Committee meets in public from 2pm at Portslade Town Hall on Tuesday 23 July.

  1. Christopher Hawtree Reply


    What resonates is Labour’s Deputy Chair, Nicky Easton, snarling at me online, “you should be ashamed of yourself.” My crime? A campaign for Hove’s Carnegie Library which was vindicated eight long months later – and Ms Easton’s grotesque assertion slung out.

    Whenever I feel my energies flag, I recall that Evil remark, and it spurs me on to defend something that belongs to us, the people.

    • Nicky Easton Reply

      You’re not exactly guilt free at snarling at people, Chris. Or spreading misinformation (or downright lies). Or smearing opposition candidates. Or dragging people into the comments section of a news article just for attention.

      I’d hoped that you had learned from that in the May elections. As for your claim that I am Labour’s Deputy Chair? Couldn’t be more wrong. So clearly lesson not learned. 0/10 for entertainment.

      • Christopher Hawtree Reply

        I do not spread misinformation and I do not smear: there is nothing to be gained by doing so.

        Your snarl, as Labour’s Deputy Leader, at the Library campaign went against the very essence of democracy, which is the freedom of residents to challenge, as they did, the figures being presented as a “reason” to close down our town’s central library.

        You need to ask yourself why you said that. As I say, it resonates, it cannot be shrugged off: it was special damage for Labour, and so it goes.

  2. Nicky Easton Reply

    Special damage to Labour? Despite your less than truthful media campaign around the Library, neither the Greens nor you personally gained in Central Hove or Westbourne in May – the seats there went to Labour.

    Re: democracy and the right to challenge. I challenged your misinformation. I also challenged why you thought preserving an old building was important than the right of disabled people to access their local library and why you thought Library staff should work in less than favourable conditions.

    No-one was closing the Library anywhere but inside your rather horrible mind. As for smears, I refer to each and every one of your numerous, daily, obsessive and hate-filled tweets directed at Peter Kyle in the 2015 General Election campaign. Voters showed you then (as now) what they think of your “challenges” and your misinformation.

  3. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    I spread my energies too widely this April; a lesson learned. More focus could have brought seats in Central and Westbourne. What the result did show is that people will no longer fall for the Labour-leaflet line of Vote Green, get Tory. Some have said to me that they are now rueful that they did vote Labour, seeing that the Tories turned out to in a low third place. The split votes were also interesting to notate.

    Er, “preserving an old building”? You wanted to move it into… an older building than the Carnegie one, which had in fact been made accessible to the disabled. The Library staff liked the Carnegie – though of course Labour duly sacked so many of them.

    As for Peter Kyle, I did not describe him in the way you say. But I was right to be wary of him, what with the NHS: in due course, he ran a library “survey” which trotted out the same false figures which were exposed at the June 2016 Policy and Resources meeting: in essence, the first report’s repair costs at the Carnegie had been inflated and the moving costs to the Museum minimised.

    That report is an enduring disgrace; and to play a part – with opposition councillors, the Brighton Society and residents – is not something of which I should be “ashamed”, to return to your snarl, which has left me very wary of talking with Labour councillors.

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