Facebook and Twitter rule book handed to Stoke-on-Trent City councillors
CITY councillors have been issued with a social media rule book to help them avoid being rude to residents on Facebook and Twitter.
The authority is drawing up separate policies for staff and members in an attempt to avoid embarrassing outbursts and has also banned the use of the council logo without approval.
PR officers are keen to prevent a repeat of high-profile gaffes seen in other areas as an increasing number of politicians try their hands at broadcasting views directly to the web.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
But concerns have been raised that the policy's warnings are so draconian it will deter councillors from publishing anything at all.
Tips included in the authority's social media policy include: "Treat others with respect; avoid personal attacks and disrespectful, rude or offensive comments; do not publish anything that might be considered sexist, racist, ageist, homophobic or anti-faith."
Members are also warned to avoid discussing 'controversial' topics "such as politics or religion".
About 16 of the city's 44 councillors have Twitter accounts, although most rarely post updates.
Last year, sacked Newcastle councillor Kyle-Noel Taylor attracted controversy after he reportedly referred to Staffordshire Police as "incompetent", made an explicit remark and compared the borough council's recycling awards to Hitler's decorations for bravery.
Social media expert Jonathan Westlake, a senior lecturer in the School of Computing at Staffordshire University, said: "A social media policy is the right step but the danger is that it will kill off the innovation and spontaneity.
"What is said is usually off-the-cuff, but what's written in an email, on Facebook or on Twitter can be very long-lasting. That can lead to out-of-context conclusions.
"There is also the danger of what an individual has said being misconstrued as the whole organisation's view.
"The positive side is that it's communication, and any medium to encourage that has to be good."
Tweeting councillor Abi Brown, Conservative member for Meir Park, said: "One of the best things I've found is that I've met residents through Twitter. As a member of a small party, it helps me reach a wider audience."
Chief executive John van de Laarschot said: "The aim is to provide guidelines for staff and councillors who wish to set up accounts to promote the work of departments or projects. It is the actions of a good council to be responsible for its housekeeping and management of practices."