Code of Conduct for Social Media [Speech to Council]

The following is a copy of the speech I made to Bolton Council at last night’s Full Council meeting. It is copied verbatim from the notes I wrote at the time and thus contains a third example, which I did not read out last night as that example had already been covered by Cllr Carol Swarbrick; whose motion I was supporting. I also cut a small part from my opening paragraph when I read this speech out; as it took me off point and on the night I preferred to keep to the matter at hand.

I have italicised both these excised pieces, to indicate which ones they are, but have left them in here for the record.

Mr Mayor, I am somewhat in support of this motion. I’ve been an avid fan of the Internet since the inception of the World Wide Web back in 1992 and I recall a number of developments for it over the years; some with fondness (such as the removal of the need to engage a TCP/IP stack before dialling in when Windows 95 blessed us with its arrival), and some with, shall we say, less fondness.

Trolls have blighted online communities since before most of us knew what a computer was but the severity of this foul behaviour has increased exponentially in a very short space of time. I’m sorry to say that some of the worst behaviour I have seen has come from members of the Bolton Community; and when you recall that I’ve been subjected to several sustained and international hate campaigns following an incident in this chamber, I’m sure you can understand the size of the yardstick I’m using to measure this by.

Mr Mayor, I’d like to give some examples of the extent to which fake news, defamatory statements and lies have been allowed to go unchecked by certain political parties in this town. The culprits are a small clique of aggressive bullies who seem to spend their lives infecting social media, primarily for the Liberal Democrats; although I put it to you that they have acted neither liberally or democratically. For example:

Publishing a faked Facebook post purporting to be from the Bolton Labour Party. This post claimed Labour had changed the “Security Settings” of Bolton Council from “public” o “secret”. Beneath this fake post was another fake post, this time purporting to be from Bolton Conservatives. The post claimed we said “LOL! Nice 1” followed by a thumbs-up emoticon. I can guarantee the Conservatives in Bolton do not type like that.

Claiming the Conservatives “backed Cliff Morris as Council Leader”. No offence to Cllr Morris but we didn’t do that either. The truth is, we respected the right of the ruling group to choose their own Leader.

Posting a faux-question in bad faith, claiming a “back-room deal” had been made between Labour and the Conservatives, when there was no evidence for that whatsoever. What is particularly galling about this one is that not only was this shamefully posted from the public gallery of this chamber, but the then Leader of the Liberal Democrats then went and voted for the motion this Lib Dem fake news was trying to stir up trouble over!

Now at this point, Mr Mayor, I will stop listing examples from the Bolton Liberal Democrat Facebook and Twitter accounts, because otherwise I could go on all night. I will note one further thing however, as it’s about personal attacks launched by one of the Lib Dems’ chief rabble-rousing trolls (I’ll let you decide which one). This troll messages me on Twitter to attempt pathetically to wind me up; and in doing so he described the Palais de Dance and other historic landmarks of our town as “horrible 1970s buildings”.

He later went onto Facebook following the incident in the chamber I mentioned earlier, to attempt to tell me and other members of the transgender community what is and is not transphobia; so he’s a failure on both social issues and architecture. What a boon to his party he must be.

Mr Mayor, all of this unchecked harassment, the lies, the bullying it all adds up. It undermines the professionalism that we must insist on for our political activities, because if we allow politics to descend into the gutter like this, we may as well give up right here and now.

We shouldn’t require a Code of Conduct for social media, we should all know better than to lie to the public, but apparently some of us do not. I therefore support this motion and I urge all Members to do the same, because standards must improve if we want the public to retain any faith in this Council and its Members.