Little progress on county’s pledge to tackle online bullying

Former county councillor Gavin Jones has expressed his concerns about online abuse.
Former county councillor Gavin Jones has expressed his concerns about online abuse.

Concerns over personal abuse and misleading the public on social media in the realm of Northumberland’s local politics has led to calls for action.

The former ward member for Berwick North, Gavin Jones, who lost his seat at last May’s elections, has called on Northumberland County Council and other authorities to tackle online abuse.

He claims that he has been ‘subjected to a vile campaign of personal hatred for over three years, especially through anonymous Facebook pages which spread false stories’.

“The only purpose of these false postings is to undermine democratic legitimacy and to intimidate those with different political opinions,” he added.

At the full council meeting in January, there was unanimous support for a motion by Labour group leader Grant Davey to create a cross-party working group to draw up a social-media policy.

This was during the authority’s first meeting to be streamed live online and Coun Davey pointed out that this filming threw up issues about who could use the images and how they might misuse them and mislead people.

The motion was seconded by Conservative and council leader Peter Jackson, who accepted that while the council did have guidance on social media, it was potentially outdated and needed refreshing.

He said: “We do need to have a very serious look on a cross-party basis about this whole issue and that’s why I’m happy to second the motion.”

Coun Anne Dale called for a strong monitoring process to make sure people are accountable, saying: “There’s some really quite nasty stuff out there.”

However, it appears that there has been little progress on this matter since the meeting in early January.

This week, a Northumberland County Council spokeswoman said: “There is existing guidance for members on the use of social media. We will be refreshing this, including setting up a cross-party group to consider the issue.”

By Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service