Salford Council bans tweeting – is it right?

As the Manchester Evening News reports:

Councillors in Salford will be banned from using Twitter in meetings.

Gatherings of the full council at Salford’s town hall have been covered live by councillors via their micro-blogging profiles.

The debates have attracted hundreds of followers, but town hall bosses have now banned members from using the site during meetings.

I have to admit to being rather confused by this opposition to Twitter that’s creeping across a few Town Halls.

The argument is that councillors who are twittering can’t be paying attention, but how can you report on a meeting if you’re not paying attention to it?

At Stockport Full Council (where I’m a twittering councillor) I, like most other backbench councillors, will speak once or twice at most, in a three or four hour meeting.

During the course of the meeting, it’s perfectly OK (or, at least, tolerated) for members to leave the chamber for a comfort break, a fag break or a chat, or indeed to catch up on some reading.

In the last couple of Full Council meetings, there have been two people reporting via Twitter – myself and a reporter from the local paper. (You can read my reports here and here).

Given how few members of the public attend Full Council meetings (on a busy day in Stockport it might be as many as 50 out of our 250,000+ population), anything that promotes proceedings and gets a few more people interested in local democracy is a positive thing.

That’s not to say tweeting is always appropriate. I don’t tweet from any meeting where I’m taking an active role, like Local Area Committees and Scrutiny Committees. I can pay attention and tweet, but I can’t participate and tweet.

Tweeting as a form of reporting is in its infancy – we’re all doing it pretty poorly at the moment and we haven’t quite figured out how to best report sometimes complex proceedings in 140 character tweets, or how to bring divers tweets together to produce a sensible narrative of a meeting.

But it’s a positive development. It’s not going to transform local democracy if, in addition to fifty people hearing proceedings from the public gallery, a few hundred follow the meeting on Twitter, but surely it’s a step in the right direction.

So far, the powers that be in Stockport have been supportive (if mildly amused) of my twittering; and I’m trying to make sure it’s appropriate and doesn’t detract from any contributions I might make to the meetings. I can only hope that continues.

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This entry was posted in Local government, Online politics and Op-eds.
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7 Comments

  • It’s not quite the same thing. Using a mobile tends to involve making a noise and that certainly does detract from the goings on. Using Twitter (as long as you use the right app) is silent. It is also not private business but communicating the business of a public meeting to the wider public.

    I vaguely remember from a tour of the Welsh Assembly that AMs are online at their desks and were positively encouraged to communicate with constituents during the session.

    As for 50 people at full council, how lucky you are. When I worked for the local party in Reading I regularly attended council meetings and there were never more than 7 or 8 people in the gallery – all party workers or candidates!

  • You are dead right Alec these people should grow up, and leave the kids to twitter !!!

    Next you will have MPs at it !!!!!

  • The value of what you can communicate and who you can communicate it to is skewed entirely in the direction of epic failure. Twitter has the perfect combination of being able to post in haste and repent at leisure. Twitter users are more likely to get themselves and whatever organisations (party, council, department) they represent in deep doo-doo for making a twit of themselves than they are to achieve any useful communication to any significant audience.

    If it was banned in Salford then there should be some kind of a record as to why… My guess would be that someone was tweeting when they should have been participating (or listening).

    Maybe I’m just too polite (it’s unlikely but possible) but it’s just rude to be fiddling with your phone while someone else is talking in a meeting.

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