Online abuse targets councillors and local authority workers, meeting told

Councillors have questioned whether a new social media policy '“ designed to protect them and professional staff '“ does enough to protect from the threat of online abuse they now face.

Targets: Councillors and staff face online abuse
Targets: Councillors and staff face online abuse

Barnsley Council has drawn up a social media policy to set out guidelines for the next two years on how council staff and elected members should use platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

It sets out guidance intended to protect them from unfair criticism, along with setting out ground rules for the barriers they are expected to obey.

But when the document went before the authority's ruling Cabinet, whose approval is needed for it to be adopted, several members questioned whether the document far enough to offer the protection they now need.

The meeting was told problems with online abuse has been increasing in recent months, though no details were given about specific problems, and Coun Roy Miller said: 'I think we need a stronger report on what assistance we will need, as elected members.

'It is becoming more difficult, with certain individuals out there misusing this technology.'

Coun Tim Cheetham added: 'There are plenty of circumstances where it could be more specific.

'We are deleting clearly offensive words. Statements which are generally offensive or identify members of staff, I think we could be clearer about that.'

The council's solicitor, Andrew Frosdick, told the cabinet that the authority offered support to those facing unwarranted comments through social media and could write to the platform's providers to ask for comments to be removed.

But the authority could not justify the cost of legal action by launching defamation cases, he said.

Council leader Sir Steve Houghton said: 'It is difficult because everyone has a view on what is discriminatory.

'If you put something down, people see it as ok to go up to there, when it isn't.'

He suggested adding examples to the policy document, but said: 'It isn't easy. Members have and continue to suffer from, particularly, verbal abuse which is unwarranted and written abuse.'

Chief Executive Diana Terris told the meeting social media had been enormously helpful to the council in allowing it to communicate with residents effectively and economically.

'It has helped us transform,' she said.

'We have to tackle these things, it is not easy but we will tackle them.