Posted on July 13, 2021 by Sue Puckeridge

Consultation Deadline Approaching for OLG’s Draft Social Media Policy

The Office of Local Government (‘OLG’) recently released a consultation draft for a Model Social Media Policy for councils (‘Draft Policy’).

With social media increasingly used for council communications, the Draft Policy represents a significant step forward in best practice governance for local government.

The deadline to participate in the policy-making process is fast approaching. Councils and other stakeholders must make their submissions to the OLG before Friday 23 July 2021.

To help inform your submissions, we set out below how social media is currently governed in the Model Code of Conduct (‘Code’) and what the Draft Policy will add, assuming it is made and adopted by councils.

Social media in the Code and the Draft Policy

Social media is mentioned only twice in the Code:

  • Clause 7.6(h), which prohibits councillors and administrators making personal attacks on council staff or engaging in conduct towards staff that would be contrary to the general conduct provisions in Part 3 of the Code in public forums; and
  • Clause 8.18, which prohibits council officials from using council social media for election campaigns and non-official purposes.

The Draft Policy, if made, will be far more comprehensive.

It is not intended that the existing clauses in the Code will be replaced with the Draft Policy, nor is adoption of Draft Policy mandatory. Councils may adopt the Draft Policy as is, as amended for their own purposes, or not at all.

However, if it is adopted,  a failure to comply with the adopted policy will give rise to a breach of the Code because the Code requires Council officials to conduct themselves in a manner that is not contrary to Council policies: cl 3.1(b) of the Code.  Breaching an adopted Draft Policy will consequently expose council officials to disciplinary action under the Code.

The Draft Policy currently has nine parts:

  1. Principles;
  2. Administrative framework for council’s social platforms;
  3. Administrative framework for councillors’ social media platforms;
  4. Standards of conduct on social media;
  5. Moderation of social media platforms;
  6. Use of social media during emergencies;
  7. Records management and privacy requirements;
  8. Private use of social media; and
  9. Definitions.

Except for Part 8 (private use of social media), the Draft Policy ‘applies to council social media pages and councillor social media pages that are linked to the council’s website’ (p 5).

The Draft Policy is intended to provide councils with ‘a robust framework for the administration and management of their social media platforms’ (p 5).

Significant changes

Part 1 – Principles

Part 1 provides four principles of social media engagement:

  • Openness;
  • Relevance;
  • Accuracy; and
  • Respect.

These principles, as explained in clause 1.1,  are intended to ‘underpin every aspect of a council’s social media activity and all councils and council officials should commit to upholding them’.

The principles also form part of the ‘House Rules’ required to be displayed or linked to on social media platforms of council officials (see Part 5).

Part 2 – Administrative framework for councils’ social media platforms

This part of the Draft Policy makes provision for:

  • Councils to clarify which social media platforms they will use;
  • Who may establish or delete council social media platforms;
  • Who will be in charge of council social media and what their role will be;
  • Who is an ‘authorised user’ of council social media, what their role is, and how they will be managed; and
  • The administrative tone to be used when making content for council social media.

The Draft Policy provides two options for who will be in control of council social media: a ‘General Manager model’ and a ‘Social Media Coordinator model’. The former vests control in the General Manager, while the latter allows the General Manager to appoint a ‘senior and suitably qualified member of staff’ as Social Media Coordinator, who may then delegate some of their functions (moderation and compliance) to authorised users. In either case, the General Manager retains the power to establish and delete council social media platforms.

Part 3 – Administrative framework for councillors’ social media platforms

This part of the Draft Policy governs councillors social media platforms, as distinct from a council’s social media platform. In particular:

  • Councillors are to personally responsible for their social media, even when others manage it for them;
  • Councillor social media platforms are to identify the role as councillor, including if they’re a mayor or deputy mayor;
  • Councillors must specify or provide a clearly accessible link to their ‘House Rules’; and
  • Councillors must display a disclaimer to the effect that the views they express are not their council’s views.

If councillors intend to use social media, the Draft Policy will require them to receive training for it.

Finally, councillors must advise the General Manager or Social Media Coordinator of any social media platform they use on which content relating to the Council or council officials is, or is expected to be, uploaded.

Part 4 – Standards of conduct on social media

Part 4 introduces a large number of new standards for the conduct of council officials on social media. For example, the standards require council officials to ‘exercise caution’ when sharing, liking, or retweeting content, ‘as this can be regarded as an endorsement’.

However, Part 4 only applies to council officials in their official capacity or in connection with their role.

Part 4 does not cover all the standards created in the Draft Policy. For example, clause 7.4 sets out what councillors must do to mitigate privacy risks in their use of social media.

Councillors are expressly permitted to explain the reasons they voted on a particular matter in a particular way.

Part 5 – Moderation of social media platforms

The most important provision of this part is the House Rules, which must be stated or clearly accessible on every social media platform.

Clause 5.4 of the Draft Policy provides minimum of what the House Rules should specify. These are:

  • The principles of social media engagement referred to in Part 1;
  • The type of behaviour or content that will result in that content being removed or a person being blocked or banned from the platform;
  • The process by which a person can be blocked or banned from the platform;
  • A statement relating to privacy and personal information;
  • When the platform will be monitored (optional); and
  • That the social media platform is not to be used for making complaints about the Council or council officials (optional, but if adopted then a council should provide information about its complaints handling policy or link users to it).

Part 8 – Private use of social media

The Draft Policy imposes a requirement that any private use of social media be on separate accounts.

When using a private account, council officials should:

  • Not identify themselves as council officials (otherwise will be taken to be acting in their official capacity);
  • Not undertake official functions; and
  • Maintain appropriate privacy settings.

Social media will be ‘private’ for the purposes of the Draft Policy when council officials upload content:

  • Which ‘is not associated with, or refers to, the Council, any other council officials, contractors, related entities or any other person or organisation providing services to or on behalf of the Council’; or
  • Is ‘not related to or does not contain information acquired by virtue of their employment or role as a council official’.

Consultation on the Draft Policy

For more about making a submission, see OLG Circular 21-08 / 28 May 2021 / A730741.

You can find the consultation draft of the Policy by following this link.

To discuss this post, please contact Sue Puckeridge on 8235 9702.