Now, there is no suggestion from SMBC to ban tweeting, but I do feel the need to explain a few of the issues involved. Yes, there are councillors and members of the public who have no problems whatsoever, but there are some who urge a bit of caution, and we should respect that.
At this evenings Planning Committee (which is a regulatory committee) we will be discussing the project ‘Improving Planning Performance’. One of the items under discussion is tweeting by members of the committee during meeting. This comes from a position that if members are tweeting during meeting they may miss some important points and be accused of not paying attention. If this is proven when determining a planning application then it may be subject of an appeal.
My position, as a very active tweeter, is that is down to individual responsibility. If a member of a committee tweets whilst representations are still being made then I feel that person is at risk of being criticised. However, to swiftly tweet a message elating to the committee’s work in between discussions should not be a problem; there is usually a break in between agenda items to allow this. Also, I do not feel it prudent to tweet the results of every single agenda item; choose the important ones that followers may be interested in.
At this evenings agenda we will receive a report from the Governance Committee, which met earlier this month. Their report can be found here (agenda item 19, para G refers to tweeting): http://eservices.solihull.gov.uk/mgInternet/mgAi.aspx?ID=2603 . The full report (including all option) that originally went to planning committee in January is via this link: http://eservices.solihull.gov.uk/mgInternet/documents/s3894/Report%20and%20Appendices%201%202%202a%202b%202c%202d%202e%202f%202g%202h%203%203a%203b%204%204a%204b%204c%204d%20and%204e.pdf
This brings me onto the reason for tweeting. Why do we tweet and who do we tweet to?
In my case I feel I have a substantial local following (perhaps as many as 1,200 of my 1,800 twitter followers are local to Solihull or the region). Some may have great interest in results (I know a few who have tweeted me asking for results of certain applications because they could not attend the meeting). This is an extension of promoting democracy and showcasing the work of councillors and the local authority. If all you are doing is tweeting to like minded political supporters across the country then the reason for tweeting a local issue may not be important to you; hence leaving it to the individual.
Part of the argument for ‘Social Media Blockers’ is there have been incidents where people have tweeted wrongly. This is again an individual responsibility and if councillors tweet the wrong message then that is for them to answer for. There are also incidents where councillors have been seen playing games on their iPads/lap tops whilst discussions have been taking place; this to me is a standards issue and one the individual should be responsible for.
So, to conclude, as with most things, we should encourage individual responsibility and those councillors who do not tweet should perhaps look into the practice to see how it could help them reach residents they can not usually reach; young and older. I suspect the fears of twitter were the same when telephones and answer phones came on the scene. They are not the Devils work, but help us all to improve engagement with each other.
Now, if we eventually get to the stage where committee meetings are shown live via the internet, then that may just reduce the need for tweeting from anyone.