The increasing prevalence of email and social media, with its potential for communications to be received instantaneously, has increased pressures on elected Members. The ease with which multiple emails may be sent – and additional parties copied in – has resulted in far greater volumes of communications being received by ward councillors, not all of which necessarily require each recipient to respond individually. This guidance aims to clarify what may reasonably be expected of Members in relation both to correspondence received by email and also – where Members choose to use it – in relation to Social Media.

This Guidance does not impose additional rules or requirements on Members over and above those outlined in the practice note on Publicity and the Use of Council Facilities in Part 8.2 of the Council’s Constitution and the general rules imposed by the Code of Conduct for Members in Part 8.1 of the Council’s Constitution. This Guidance aims instead to offer some guidelines which may assist Members in staying within the rules which govern Member conduct

Key principles

The fundamental principle is that the same standards of behaviour and conduct are expected of Members online as are required offline. In other words, members are expected to comply with the Code of Conduct in all areas when acting in their capacity as Members, whether they are doing so by email or online, via social media or in person. Members are referred to the Code of Conduct and the Practice Note on Publicity for the detail of the expectations made of them, and are welcome to contact the Executive Lead – Strategy, Governance and Law if they have any queries regarding any aspect of the regulatory framework which binds them.

A: Member correspondence – both hard copy and email

Key expectations: Member discretion

It is for each Member to judge the particular circumstances of any communication and to act in a way which is proportionate and respectful. While it is for each Member to decide whether a particular communication necessitates a personal response from them, such a response may only be reasonably be expected where the communication they receive relates to matters of relevance to their duties as a councillor.

Multiple recipients

Ward constituents or other stakeholders may expect a response to every direct communication they send to an individual member. However the volume of communications received by elected Members (particularly via email) means that this is not always possible - nor may it be necessary. In a situation where more than one ward member and/or officer(s) of the Council have been joined into an email, then it will be for each individual Member to decide whether they need to respond personally rather than allowing a fellow Member or officer to respond on behalf of the Council, as that person sees fit.

‘Cc’d’-only emails

In any case where a Member is only ‘copied’ or ‘ccd’ into an email as opposed to being a primary recipient of it, then the following applies:

  • members may (depending on workloads) need to prioritise those emails which are directed to them as primary recipient. This may mean that they do not read all emails which they are merely copied or ‘ccd’ into.
  • in any case, the normal expectation is that Members will not be expected to respond individually to emails which they have only been ccd into.

Managing expectations via automated messages

Members are in any event encouraged to make use of the out of office assistant available on Outlook to manage expectations, especially where there is likely to be a delay to their normal response times due to holidays, illness or workloads.

It is recognised that on occasion Members may find themselves overwhelmed by a sheer volume of correspondence, particularly when a controversial issue arises. A delay in replying caused by unmanageable volume of correspondence or an occasional failure to respond would not normally constitute a breach of the Member’s Code of Conduct. However Members should be aware that repeated failure to respond promptly or at all to substantive correspondence directed at them individually which meets the criteria above could amount to failure to treat people with respect and/or be deemed to be conduct which brings their office or the Council into disrepute.

Repetitious or otherwise inappropriate communications

It is also recognised that some correspondents – whether because they do not receive the reply they are seeking, or for some other reason - repeat the same request or points in a series of emails or letters, continuing the conversation (and on occasion ccing in other parties) after the Member has made their position clear. In this situation, it is for the individual Member to decide on a reasonable course of action. This may involve deciding not to respond further: a decision which is normally taken after they have first made their position clear to the other person and informed them that they consider the conversation to be at an end.

Similarly, the expectation of respectful behaviour applies to all parties in a conversation. Members are not expected to engage or to continue to engage in exchanges in which the other party/ies is acting in a way which is disrespectful, abusive or otherwise inappropriate. In such a situation, they will normally be expected to send a single communication indicating that they are not minded to engage giving brief reasons. This is however at the individual Member’s discretion and there may be circumstances where the other person has behaved in such a way that no response can reasonably be expected.

B: Social media

Members are not required to set up any kind of social media account, and are free to communicate and engage however they wish to. However these guidelines will be relevant to any Member who is using or planning to use social media in connection with their work as a Councillor, or who is already using it another capacity (including in their private capacity).

Members are not expected to maintain any kind of social media presence in their capacity as councillors, and retain discretion re how they communicate with ward constituents and other stakeholders. Where they do chose to maintain a social media account, they are not expected to monitor information posted on relevant forums or to respond to posts or messages within specific timeframes/ at all. Where they do choose to use social media to engage on an occasional basis, this is not to be read as creating an expectation that they will monitor responses on a regular basis or at all.

Potential issues

While any form of communication is capable of being misunderstood, the rapidity of social media exchanges can lend itself to problems.

  • “Misfiring”, or being misunderstood, particularly where comments are perceived as being controversial, may lead to rapid circulation and therefore escalation
  • although social media lends itself to a conversational tone, posting comments is still publishing as it creates a written record. It is therefore important that online content is accurate, informative, balanced and objective
  • while councillors are free to communicate politically in appropriate contexts, it is recommended that they do not post anything that they would not be comfortable justifying at a public meeting
  • where councillors use social media to make comment (whether political or otherwise) about an individual or organisation, it is recommended that they alert that person to their comment by ‘tagging’ them (or otherwise alerting them) so that they are aware of the post. This ensures that they are identified correctly as well as giving them the opportunity to respond

Legal issues


If Members publish an untrue statement about a person which is damaging to their reputation, they may take a libel action. The same thing may happen if, for example, someone else publishes something libellous on a Member’s SM page and they don’t take swift action to remove it. A successful libel claim could result in the award of damages.


Placing images or text on any site from a copyrighted source (for example extracts from publications or photos), without obtaining permission, is likely to breach copyright laws. Again, a successful claim for breach of copyright would be likely to lead to an award of damages.

Data Protection

Members are data controllers in the eyes of the ICO insofar as the personal data which they hold on ward business is concerned. Members must have regard to the requirements of the GDPR in all respects, and must not publish the personal data of individuals without their express permission.

Bias and Predetermination

If Members are involved in making planning, licensing or other quasi-judicial decisions, it is important that they do not indicate via any media that they have made their mind up on an issue that is due to be formally decided upon. While a Member’s likely view on a particular application may be well known, only those Members who are able to show that they have attended the committee or hearing prepared to take on board and weigh all the evidence and arguments, and are genuinely persuadable to a different view, should be taking part in council decision-making. If not, then the decision may be challenged. Where a person has suffered some sort of detriment as a result of an invalid decision, they may have a claim against the council for damages.

‘Acting as a councillor’ and the issue of blurred identities

The key to whether an individual Member’s online activity is subject to the Code of Conduct is whether they are, or even just appear to be, acting in their capacity as a councillor rather than as a private individual.

Councillors may have “blurred identities” in a situation where they maintain a social profile which sees them comment both as a councillor and as an individual (which may or may not involve making political statements). Although Members may be clear that they are acting in a private capacity, it may be less clear to others.

One way of avoiding blurring the lines between a Member’s personal (or political) communications and those they make as a councillor is to consider maintaining an online account as a councillor which is entirely separate from those where the Member communicates in a personal capacity. This is a decision for each Member and some Members may find the convenience of having one account outweighs the advantages of separate accounts. The council’s Communications team will assist if specific advice if needed.

Recommendations for Social Media use by Members

  • Members will need to consider setting appropriate privacy settings– especially if they have a private, non-political blog.
  • Members need to monitor their social media accounts for defamatory or obscene posts from others and remove them as soon as possible to avoid the perception that they condone such views.
  • The potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication via social media is increased, and Members may wish to bear this in mind.
  • Where Members feel it to be necessary to ‘block’ an individual from communicating with them, whether because the communication has crossed the line and is considered to be abusive or for some other reason, then members are expected to be mindful of the need to be clear and transparent in their actions. This may (depending on the
  • Member’s assessment of the situation) involve communicating directly with the individual and informing them of the decision and of the reasons for it.
  • Members are asked to consider keeping their personal and elected member profile on social networking sites separate as a means of maintaining appropriate professional boundaries.
  • Members are expected to ensure they use council facilities appropriately and to bear in mind the likelihood that posts about the council/ which use information accessed by being a councillor are likely to be viewed as made in their official capacity.
  • While members may wish to make political points, it is recommended that they take care not to be too specific or personal if referring to individuals. An attack on individuals may be seen as disrespectful, whereas general comments about another party or genuine comments on policy are less likely to be viewed as disrespect.
  • Where Members do make a personal or a political comment about an individual or organisation on social media, it is recommended that they ‘tag‘ them in their post. As well as identifying the correct person, this practice alerts the other party to the comment and gives them the opportunity to reply to it.
  • Members are advised not to request or accept a Brighton & Hove City Council employee or contractor providing services to the council as a “friend” on a social networking site where this suggests close personal association. For the avoidance of doubt, this does not apply to sites which are intended as a neutral, professional connections registry (such as Linkedin.)


This Guidance aims to assist Members in avoiding the various risks associated with the types of communication in scope. The Monitoring Officer and the Communications Team are happy to help Members by providing additional advice and guidance as appropriate.