City administration to draft new rules to guide councillors on social media blocking

· The Pulse

City council's code of conduct sub-committee has directed administration to draft a policy to provide guidance on when councillors can block people on social media. The decision was made when the committee met on Jan. 26 to discuss proposed social media guidelines, drafted by integrity commissioner Jamie Pytel.

The proposed guidelines suggested addressing a number of issues including misinformation and disrespectful behaviour, but the discussion focused specifically on councillors blocking other users on social media platforms. Pytel said that is the main complaint she has heard from Edmontonians.

"Constituents are saying their freedom of expression and their democratic rights are being limited," Pytel explained, since being blocked prevents people from interacting with elected officials.

Pytel’s recommendation is for a new policy to define the situations where it is acceptable for a councillor to block a constituent.

(Courtesy of Unsplash/@ravinepz) (Courtesy of Unsplash/@ravinepz)

"They should be able to give their ... pointy and sometimes not very pleasant opinions — to a point," she said, explaining that social media comments can often cross the line into hate, abuse, and threats.

Coun. Andrew Knack put forward the motion to draft a policy to clarify the rules around blocking, saying this is the issue most in need of an immediate resolution. He added that the other issues raised by the integrity commissioner's proposal could be revisited in the future.

The motion was passed with Coun. Scott McKeen, Mayor Don Iveson, and Knack voting for, and Councillors Bev Esslinger and Sarah Hamilton voting against it.

Hamilton said councillors should have the discretion to exclude who they wish in online conversations, especially since social media makes it easy to access people.

"Not having the ability to control people's access to me when I'm in my home, that's one of the very disconcerting parts of social media," she said. "You can be sitting with your family having a picnic and someone can send you a message that completely changes what is happening."

Pytel initially recommended the city take a closer look at social media policies after she found social media posts by Coun. Mike Nickel violated council’s code of conduct last fall.

City council will discuss the proposed policy for social media blocking on Feb. 9.