Supporting councillors to use social media safely

Durham Council has developed a comprehensive social media toolkit that guides councillors on social media use.

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The council provides a social media toolkit that covers health and safety, as well as training for members on how to keep within the code of conduct online and how to deal with online abusive behaviour. The training includes theoretical and practical help from the communications team. Additionally, the communications team takes action to have offensive posts on third-party accounts removed.

The challenge:

Durham has noticed an increase in the number of councillors experiencing abuse, harassment, threats of violence and the number of social media related incidents. Not only is this highly distressing for elected members, their families and those who support them, it may put people off standing for election.

The solution:

Durham Council has a strong commitment to protecting councillors from abuse, harassment, and intimidation and takes threats against councillors very seriously.

The council has developed a comprehensive social media toolkit that guides councillors on social media use. The toolkit includes a section that advises councillors on how to manage comments, protect accounts, and reduce the risk of harassment or abuse online. The council recently updated the toolkit in accordance with the civility and respect guide on social media, published by the civility and respect project in consultation with the SLCC, NALC, OVW and County Associations, ensuring that it is comprehensive and accessible to all councillors.

The toolkit is presented as part of the council’s training on social media which is made up of a theoretical and practical session. The first part of the training is conducted by the legal team and sets out how to communicate and use social media positively and in line with the council's code of conduct. The following practical sessions are conducted by the communications team and cover how to set up and use social media accounts and keep them technically safe. The council's communication team engage with social media providers when they are aware of offensive posts and request their removal when necessary.

This approach helps the council to strike the balance between promoting a safe and respectful online environment for councillors and residents alike.

The impact: 

For better or worse social media and online engagement is becomes a permanent part of local civic and political engagement. As a result, many councillors want to develop the skills to use social media safely and confidently. This programme of proactive training has helped councillors to set the appropriate tone online, while also providing them with the tools to disengage and flag inappropriate content when they need to.

Councillors at the council feel well supported by the council whether or not they have experienced abuse or intimidation, and this helps them to continue their councillor role with confidence.

How is the new approach being sustained?

This training now forms a part of the package of training members have access to alongside other induction and repeated training for councillors.

Lessons learned:

  • Social media and online engagement are here to stay and it’s important to help councillors develop the skills to use these platforms safety to support them in their role and protect their well-being.
  • Good online engagement is a two-way thing and it’s just as important for elected members to role model good practices as it is to enforce good standards by reporting poor engagement from other online.
  • Not all elected members wish to engage online and many will prefer to use other methods of engagement. This support should be available for those who want and need it.