Stirling councillors call for more protection from cyber bullying

Stock image.
Stock image.

A STIRLING councillor says more regulation is needed to protect councillors from cyber bullying during election campaigns.

Cr Giovanni Italiano moved a notice of motion at Tuesday’s council meeting for the City to write to the Local Government Minister and WA Local Government Association (WALGA) to advocate for new cyber bullying regulations at the next local government elections.

He described social media activity during last year’s campaign as “horrific” and like nothing he had experienced in more than 22 years in local government.

“I’d never experienced the social abuse I copped as mayor, the CEO as CEO and the freeman as freeman,” he said.

“People who are not elected members can say whatever they want….and there are no repercussions.”

Cr Italiano wants a code of conduct implemented and believed social media should not be involved in local government.

It is common for councillors across Perth to run Facebook pages for their local government role, separate to their personal accounts.

At Stirling, only five of 14 councillors, including Cr Italiano, do not manage separate accounts though most make City-related posts on their personal pages.

Cr Elizabeth Re said she was also subject to “horrible” comments on social media following bullying allegations last year.

“Although I was ultimately exonerated of the charges…the social media bullying continues today,” she said.

“The misuse of social media and fake news is a form of bullying and intimidation, which is not being addressed by government departments or organisations.”

Though she does not maintain a public page herself, she believed the practice was fine as long as councillors remembered they were always representing council.

City chief executive Stuart Jardine said cyber bullying had impacted most WA local governments, especially at last year’s elections.

“The City supports WALGA’s decision to advocate for stronger defamation laws and assistance from the State Government to pursue defamation cases where appropriate,” he said.

“While the City has no control over Facebook pages or social media from members of the public, it does monitor councillor Facebook pages and social media to ensure the City’s code of conduct and relevant policies are adhered to.

“The City also works with councillors who have concerns regarding social media content, to address them and (where needed) provide them with best practice advice and corrective actions they can pursue, if they wish.”

The association is seeking feedback from councillors and council chief executives on a draft communications and social media policy that addresses appropriate online activity for staff and elected members.

WALGA proposed social media policy

DOCUMENTS distributed to local governments seeking feedback on WALGA’s draft communications and social media policy said the local government sector had experienced “increasing concerns arising from social media interaction” in the past few years.

The concerns related specifically to social media use by local governments, elected members and staff, as well as community members.

The proposed guidelines provide advice on elected members’ activity on social media and recommend considering how liking and sharing posts, comments and joining Facebook groups could reflect on their council.

It said the right to freedom of expression was subject to limitations imposed by the Local Government (Code of Conduct) Regulations.

A proposed new clause in the WALGA Model Code of Conduct restricts staff and councillors’ personal and private communications by requiring them to adhere to the regulations.

Breaches could result in penalties under the Local Government Act for councillors or Public Sector Management Act for employees.

Under the regulations, councillors are generally required to avoid damage to local government reputation, not reflect adversely on a council decision and not use “offensive or objectionable expressions” in reference to fellow elected members or staff.