MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY - County council has received legal advice on the use of social media, including as it relates to posts or messages made as council members and those made as private citizens.
The update came during the Sept. 6 council meeting as councillors considered proposed updates to the Council Code of Conduct Bylaw.
The code governs the conduct of councillors in dealings with the public, administration, departments and business units.
Council is currently working to update the code, with lawyer Alifeyah Gulamhusein with Brownlee LLP, providing advice.
She appeared virtually before council on Sept. 6 to answer council questions and provide input, including regarding Section 5 - Communicating on Behalf of the Municipality and the Use of Social Media.
The proposed updated section reads, in part, “Councillors must ensure that their use of social medial complies with the law, the requirements of this bylaw and any related bylaws, policies or procedures. This bylaw applies to all communications the councillor makes, regardless of the social media account or device from which the communication is made.
“Communications means any information or data submitted by the councillor to a social media network or platform, including texts, videos or links to other content and includes a councillor ‘liking’, ‘retweeting’, communicating or sharing content created by other users of social network or platform.”
During the discussion, reeve Angela Aalbers asked Gulamhusein to discuss the “separation of social media with respect to personal social media or social media as a councillor. How can we best manage the personal versus the councillor?”
Gulamhusein replied, “The personal and the county business line is very difficult to discern because the expectation of the public is that you are representing the county in everything you do. That is just the reality of being an elected official and the reality of social media.
“Once you are a councillor, you are always a councillor. You are a councillor when you go to the grocery store, you are a councillor when you are at the farmers market, and you are a councillor when you are on social media.
“When you as a councillor, and you are always a councillor, make a comment about something, whether it’s on your private media or your county media, people will believe that that is you as a councillor.”
Whether using personal social media or county social media, councillors must always be mindful of what they post, she said.
“If you are going to make comments about your personal opinion it is important that you say it is your personal opinion,” she said. “But it isn’t necessarily going to insulate or protect you because if you say something in your personal social media or in your personal comments (that runs) afoul of the code of conduct someone may still say, ‘well, no, you are a county representative, you are held to a higher standard and we expect you to do more’.”
As with other people, councillors have freedom of expression, she noted.
“You are allowed to speak, but what you have to be careful of is not speaking in a manner that undermines a decision of council or that is harmful, discriminatory, harassment, hate-crime and any of those things,” she said.
“Where trouble sometimes arises is if you ‘like’ someone or an organization which is known to have links to some kind of inappropriate activity. So if you like a group that is known to have some kind of affiliation with hate crime then you may run into trouble.”
Other things discussed during the Sept. 6 delegation appearance included third-party investigations, and informal and formal complaint processes.
Council gave first reading to Bylaw 23/23 Council Code of Conduct and instructed administration to bring back amendments for possible second reading.
Coun. Gord Krebs did not attend the Sept. 6 council meeting, which was held in person and online.