Social media and internet porn abuse punished by councils

By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

image copyrightThinkstock
image captionSome of the cases involved staff posting racist comments to social media

There was a rise in the number of UK council workers suspended last year after being accused of breaking social media rules, according to a Freedom of Information request made by BBC Radio 5 live.

The response showed that more than 51 workers were suspended.

However, only a minority were later dismissed or resigned.

The exact figure is not known because some councils did not specify how many of their employees had been suspended.

The data also reveals 11 people were suspended for viewing online porn.

"Councils are clear that while some personal use of social media at work is acceptable, it must be reasonable and appropriate in terms of both the time spent and the content," said a spokesman for the Local Government Association.

"The vast majority of council employees abide by that.

"Councils take very seriously any misuse and, as these figures show, will deal robustly with cases that are unacceptable."

Threats and racism

The statistics are not comprehensive because not all the councils included school staff in their replies.

image copyrightThinkstock
image captionSome councils block workers from accessing social media unless it is part of their job

In addition, some councils based their numbers on the calendar year while others used the April-to-March financial year.

Furthermore, only 169 councils provided data. Twenty-two refused and 27 did not reply to the FOI request.

But based on the information provided, 114 council staff were issued with warnings about breaching social media guidelines last year, which was a drop of 4% on 2014.

However, because a higher proportion of people were forced to take time off as a result, there was a 19% rise in the number of suspensions.

The information provided revealed:

  • St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council suspended the largest number of workers. It said it took action against seven people over the period, several for offences involving Facebook, but did not provide details of the circumstances
  • East Riding of Yorkshire Council said it suspended two teachers for befriending pupils on Facebook, among other issues. In one case, it said, the teacher had attempted to arrange a meeting with the child via the social network
  • Swindon Borough Council said it suspended a worker for making threatening comments towards a colleague on Facebook
  • Leeds Council took action against two employees over racial comments they had made online
  • East Renfrewshire Council suspended an employee for the inappropriate use of its official Twitter account
  • Cheshire West and Chester Council took action against a worker who posted rude messages about the public on Facebook while on duty
  • Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council said one worker had been made to take six days off for posting an inappropriate photo on an unnamed site
  • Luton Borough Council, Norfolk County Council and Newport City Council all confirmed that they had dismissed workers following their suspensions, while Milton Keynes Council said a suspended worker had opted to resign. No background details were provided for any of these cases

Porn offences

The responses also revealed 11 council staff were suspended over the period for accessing pornographic sites.

image copyrightThinkstock
image captionSome staff were suspended for more than four months for looking at pornography

That marked a 27% fall on the previous year.

In one case, Orkney Council said there had subsequently been a related criminal investigation.

In another, Redbridge Council said the employee had stored "grossly offensive material in council systems" that could have brought it into disrepute.

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