COUNCILLORS in Colchester could be banned from using Twitter or Facebook in public meetings.

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A specialist committee set up to look at technology use at Colchester Borough Council has put forward the recommendation and asked the cabinet to make it official policy when it meets on March 6.

According to councillor Pauline Hazell, who sits on the Technology and Community Engagement Task and Finish Group, the subject of social media misuse is being tackled prior to council members being issued with iPads and similar devices.

She said: “It was felt that it would be beneficial that councillors had iPads. It will save on paper and mean they can access relevant information from the internet during meetings.

“But questions were raised about councillors who had used Facebook or Twitter during the meetings. There’s a concern this is not appropriate and that the iPads should only be used for the job in hand.”

She said councillors who did not already have an iPad would be encouraged to buy a tablet or similar device from their own allowances. Currently, the council spends £19,000 a year on printing out council agendas and reports for members.

Self-pronounced Twitter addict, councillor Sue Lissmore, who is a member of the group, said she felt councillors using social media during public meetings ran the risk of “getting an unrepresentative view” from residents.

She added: “In the ward where I live, many of the residents are elderly and they don’t use social media. If a councillor is asking for feedback on Twitter during a meeting, they are likely to only get a response from a select few which might warp their view.”

But popular online commentator Jason Cobb, who writes the Colchester Chronicle blog, said he felt councillors using social media during meetings helped make the democratic process “less secretive”.

He said: “With all the motions and jargon used at meetings, a tweet from a councillor can help clarify things. It can help in opening up the way the council works.”

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