As a Glasgow boy currently residing south of the border, I followed the media coverage of the tragedy at the Clutha bar with great interest.
Like many others, I was astonished to find that former Apprentice contestant Katie Hopkins had tweeted just hours after the disaster that “Life expectancy in Scotland is 59.5. Goodness me, that lot will do anything to avoid working until retirement.” Those remarks would have been provocative at any time, but to tweet them as bodies were being pulled out of the rubble was an act of breathtaking insensitivity.
It’s a good example of how the careless use of social media sites can easily backfire on you and get you into serious trouble. Indeed the Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC has only this week warned Twitter and Facebook users that they risk breaking the law if they comment on ongoing court cases.
Local Councils and other public bodies need to exercise great care when using social media. These sites are a great vehicle for disseminating information quickly and effectively, but we need to guard against using them to comment on controversial issues. The UK Government’s Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity has little practical advice to offer on this subject, although it does state that it is “generally acceptable” for Council’s to host blogs which link to external sites.
It seems to me that it all comes down to common sense. No experienced Council press officer would dream of issuing a press release which deliberately contained inflammatory or provocative remarks. If you wouldn’t say it in a press release, don’t say it on Twitter.