Fringe Box



Is Social Media a Menace or a ‘Key Tool’ For Civilised Society?

Published on: 14 Apr, 2019
Updated on: 17 Apr, 2019

By Rebecca Curley

local democracy reporter

with additional content by The Guildford Dragon NEWS

Is social media a menace to civilised society? That was the question posed to one Surrey borough council on Thursday, April 11.

Cllr Michael Selby, Residents’ Association group councillor, told Reigate and Banstead Borough Council he felt it would be “wise for the council not to patronise social media platforms” such as Facebook and Twitter.

He said he feared it would bring the council into disrepute and said their website was “perfectly good on its own”. And he asked if the council agreed that Facebook and Twitter “were a menace to our civilised society”.

But deputy leader Cllr Graham Knight, Conservative, said he didn’t agree the council should not use social media, adding that there would be training and coaching for councillors to help them feel more comfortable using it.

“Residents are taking more and more of their news from social media platforms,” he said. “Like all forms of communication, it has to be used appropriately, managed well, honest in its content, timely and used alongside a range of communications.”

He said not being on social media “risked the voice of the council being missing on issues residents are engaged in” and that their silence could be taken as a view that they did not care.

Cllr Knight added: “We recognise that social media can be an uncomfortable and scary place for some residents and we will continue to support all councillors with training and coaching.”

The road name commemorating Gdsm Hill

Later in the meeting, borough mayor Cllr Dorothy Ross-Tomlin said a Facebook post about the naming of a road in memory of Redhill soldier Lance-corporal James Hill, a Coldstream Guard killed in action in Afghanistan in 2009, had reached more than 25,000 people.

She said 100 people shared the post, including the Coldstream Guards, adding: “That’s the power of social media today if used sensitively.”

Guardsman Hill Drive, which leads into Redstone Cemetery, Redhill, was officially unveiled by the mayor on Friday, March 8, to honour the 10 years since he died.

The Guildford Dragon NEWS asked for comments from candidates standing in the May 2 council election.

Maddy Redpath, a Residents for Guildford and Villages candidate, said: “Social media is a useful way to reach constituents, promote businesses and to feed information to the public. But Twitter and Facebook can also be destructive.

“I run a Twitter page for a charity involved in community events. A senior GBC councillor used Twitter to publicly contact the charity commission after disagreeing with the conduct at one of our events, a possible threat to a charity which has been part of the Guildford community for 15 years.” She said she felt this had been most unhelpful.

Cllr Susan Parker

Susan Parker of the Guildford Greenbelt Group added: “Social media is a fact of modern life. Council use of social media is desirable, preferably for information, not advertising.

“Urgent, immediate communication (eg warnings of flood, rail disruption, notification of fire, accidents on the M25) can be transmitted usefully by social media. Councillors who have social media followers themselves can help to get such messages disseminated swiftly.

“But councillors’ personal accounts are wholly their own concern and not any business of the local council.  To control these, or give guidance on use, would be a bit like saying that the council should control use of private telephones. No thanks.”

Cllr Caroline Reeves

Liberal Democrat spokesperson Caroline Reeves largely agreed. “There’s been lots of news recently about the negative side of social media and it’s clear there needs to be serious consideration about how to ensure people are appropriately protected from dangerous material, fake news, etc.

“But social media is also a positive thing. Many people use it to maintain relationships and keep informed. Organisations use it to share information and connect with their audience. Councils and councillors should be no different. Democracy works well when residents, councillors and councils are well-connected. In 2019, social media is a key tool for this.”

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Responses to Is Social Media a Menace or a ‘Key Tool’ For Civilised Society?

  1. John Perkins Reply

    April 15, 2019 at 8:28 am

    One thing that is quite striking about information published by councils is just how inaccessible it is. Complex websites are less like noticeboards and more like dark basement rooms full of boxes of documents. You have to search for what you want, which implies you know in advance that it is there. Social media could at least be used to notify people about something worth looking at.

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