Councillors! Here’s how not to do Twitter

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Twitter is a great tool for local politicians to use to connect with their electorate.

It’s also a brilliant channel for espousing your views on the stoning of women, as Gareth Compton, a councillor in Birmingham demonstrates:

Twitter fail

The golden rule of Twitter (and indeed life generally), is of course “don’t be a dick”. This is what happens when you ignore that advice.

Update: The Guardian has picked up the story, and Cllr Compton has apologised for what he describes as an “ill-conceived attempt at humour” – and deleted the offending tweet.

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Dave Briggs

I'm Head of Digital and Design at Adur and Worthing Councils.

11 thoughts on “Councillors! Here’s how not to do Twitter”

  1. It started with Prescott, and it’s being continued by the likes of Nadine Dorries with her 70% fiction blog.

    You would think someone would actually train these people on how to use the media to their advantage instead of letting them blunder on. I like to think of it as natures way of ‘culling the herd’ of people who would otherwise be deceiving us in a big way.

    1. Yes and no. Do local politicians need support to help them get the most of these tools, of course.

      But was it a lack of understanding of Twitter that got Cllr Compton into trouble here? I don’t think so – the problem here was him, and his appalling sense of humour.

  2. “Twitter is a great tool for local politicians to use to connect with their electorate” – I rarely see any evidence to confirm this; usually just examples of the opposite. We should stop encouraging them.

    1. Dave, I don’t think that is true at all. Tim Cheetham in Barnsley, James Cousins in Wandsworth and Daisy Benson in Reading are three examples right off the top of my head where local politicians are using Twitter really well, both to the benefit of themselves and their electorates.

      The issue is that people cocking up on the internet is always more widely reported than people doing it well.

      I’d also argue that these tools offer a useful function for transparency. These incidents always betray someone’s lack of judgement, or their appalling views, say. Better to have that out in the open, surely?

      1. I don’t understand the terms of ‘doing it well’. Who’s sense of ‘doing it well’ are we measuring this against. It there some kind of system for measuring effectiveness? Some polls or research available?

        Twitter strikes me as not being about transparency at all. It’s as much a place to construct identity as any other media platform. But you make an interesting point in that it’s better to have such lapses in judgement out in the open.

        So if that’s the mission, to sell twitter as an engagement tool to politicians and then wait with relish for the moment they expose themselves, that sounds quite progressive and radical. Count me in.

      2. Dave, I’m slightly confused by your tone here, and will do my best to be conciliatory.

        There’s so set defined criteria for doing well on twitter, as we both know, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible for a broad consensus of what activity is likely to have a positive response within the community. Off colour jokes of the sort on display with this incident I would say don’t fall into that category of activity, and I would imagine that on the occasions that you yourself have shown people twitter and how to use it, you’ve probably said as much. Indeed, I don’t see why research is required to prove that saying nasty things about other people on the Internet isn’t a good thing to do, especially if you are a public servant.

        As for your other point, no, there is no mission, which is pretty cleat from what I said. Again, it’s no more than common sense to say that if my elected representative is a twat, I’d like to know about it. Twitter cock ups might be one way that happens, so fair enough.

        The point is that many politicians use twitter and other social media tools, and the majority have no incidents like this. Those politicians find it useful, and it provides another channel for interaction with their electorate.

        Your previous comment said “we should stop encouraging them”. Why? Because one or two behave in an idiotic way? Because the entire political class is unable to use the Internet as well as you or I?

        I’ll continue to support local politicians to experiment with new technology, if it’s ok with you. Many are interested, and enjoy it when they get stuck in, and realise the benefits while having mature appreciation of the risks. I don’t see why the actions of one twerp in Birmingham should mean the end of online innovation in politics and democracy.

      3. I would disagree with that as Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council have informed me that we have no Councillors Online on twitter.

        I have also requested for a councillor contact on twitter and not had a response.

        I have also past images on twitter re problems in my town and they still remain this same.

        Until we have a recognised Twitter route from ‘Public’, ‘Educational’ and ‘Business’ including ‘Enterprises’ such as the Digital Media Centre with a reference to the ‘Tweeter’ this will remain undemocratic way of providing information to the electorate.

        You are also being biased in Barnsley because you do not relate to other opposition political parties on the scene in other words #Fail we also need impartiality from council officers.

    1. Well this is also true with Mass movement of people outside the Electoral register area coming in to distort the outcome of elections. Perhaps it is necessary to stop the ‘Flying Canvasser’ as the past two governments have done with Trade union laws with ‘Flying Pickest’

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