LGAT Online Bullying & Harassment Survey 2019

LGAT distributed a survey to all elected canvassing their experience of online bullying and harassment in Oct/Nov 2019. The purpose of the survey was to inform a discussion at the December Mayor’s Workshop and to support LGAT’s work and collaboration with the Local Government Division of State Government in relation to tools and training to support Members. Read the Survey Report here.

Executive Summary

LGAT distributed a survey to all elected canvassing their experience of online bullying and harassment.  The purpose of the survey was to inform a discussion at the December Mayor’s Workshop and to support LGAT’s work and collaboration with the Local Government Division of State Government in relation to future social media tools and training to support Members.

The survey was open from 30 October to 25 November 2019 and achieved a response rate of 37% .The survey was specifically focused on councilors’ experience of online bullying and harassment to gain an overall picture for the sector and does not provide a breakdown by council or demographic factors.  The survey was not intended to provide information about other types of negative interactions that maybe experienced by councillors.

The 2018 Yellow Social Media Report* states that 60% of Australians use social media more than five times every day - with nearly all respondents accessing social media from home (and 35% from work). The Report identifies positive impacts of social media such as connectedness to others, relaxation and personal relationships, however bullying and harassment was witnessed by 25% of consumers surveyed and 14% were personally bullied.

Results of the LGAT survey (n=98) showed a greater proportion of Tasmanian Elected Members indicated they have experienced online bullying and harassment then the national figures in the Yellow Social Media Report.  While this may be now deemed the natural consequence of political life it certainly suggests that advice on how to best use social media and manage misuse of social media will be important skills for councillors and critical advice for those thinking of standing for council in future.

The results of the LGAT Social Media: Online Bullying and Harassment Survey 2019 will be supplemented with feedback through other forums, including recent social media training. LGAT is developing resources to provide support and capacity building for Elected Members.

Key Findings: 

Platforms Used

  • Facebook was the most commonly used social media platform by respondents and this aligns with the broader Australian community; more than 9 in 10 Australians use Facebook.  Only a few respondents indicated they use YouTube compared to 53% of Australians who are YouTube Users. LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter were the other social media platforms that councillor respondents most commonly used.
  • Fifteen per cent of respondents said they don’t use social media at all.

Business and Personal Use

  • Fifty-seven per cent of respondents indicated they have both personal and elected representative social media profiles.  Those with elected representative social media profiles (around 66%) indicated that primarily it was used for election campaigning (75%) followed by providing information on council decisions (60%), information on council projects and services (66%), seeking feedback on specific council matters (52%) and seeking general feedback (51%).
  • The high proportion of social media accounts being used to provide information on council decisions and services raises some interesting issues in relation to future training and collaboration with the Local Government Division given the clear articulation in the Act that the Mayor is the spokesperson for the Council.
  • 86% of respondents were clear on who should be saying what about council business and nearly 56% were aware their councils had a social media policy that applied to them.

Experience of Bullying and Harassment via Social Media

  • Sixty per cent of respondents (n=57) indicated they had experienced online bullying and harassment.
  • The most commonly experienced examples included: repeated and untruthful representation of actions (70%), abusive language or comments or defamatory comments suggesting misconduct or criminal activity (both 63%) and repeated questioning on the same issue regardless of answers provided (57%).
  • The issue of Code of Conduct complaints being used to threaten councillors was raised by a small number of respondents.
  • Most commonly online bullying and harassment came from members of the public who were unknown to the respondents (73%) but also from members of the public who were known (63%).
  • Around a third of respondents indicated the bullying came from comments through the social media page of another elected member. This provides a future focus for training and guidance.

Understanding of Rights and Responsibilities

  • Over 40% of respondents were not clear on their rights and responsibilities under Work Health and Safety Legislation. This is not surprising given that councillors are not individually considered either a worker or employer under such legislation but do have responsibilities akin with any other person in the workplace not to cause harm. This lack of clarity points to a clear information need that LGAT can work with State Government in providing.
  • Despite the significant number of respondents who reported they had experienced some online bullying and harassment only 15% (n=14) indicated they had sought advice on the matter.
  • When councillors did seek advice the General Manager, Mayor, Director of Local Government and Council were the most common ports of call.
  • Respondents had a high level of awareness of the responsibilities and protections under the Local Government Code of Conduct but less awareness of the tools and resources provided by the National Office of E Safety. The National office of E Safety was outlined in recent LGAT ‘Navigating Social Media’ seminars and will be further referenced in resources under development.

Guidance and Training

  • 17% of respondents said their council did not have a social media policy that captured elected members and nearly 27% were unsure if their council had such a policy.
  • More than 50 % of respondents felt a social media policy would be useful but disappointingly for LGAT, over 73% did not know that LGAT has produced a model Communications and Social Media Policy for council staff for that could be easily modified to include elected members.  This provides an immediate and early action for LGAT in ensuring broad awareness of this tool.
  • Most respondents, 64% had not undertaken any social media training and generally where training had been experienced it was part of their broader professional life that specifically related to their council role.
  • Most respondents indicated there is no training and support provided by their council when it comes to dealing with negative commentary or online bullying. This may in part be a reflection of how few respondents indicated they had sought support. This also aligns with LGAT’s experience in that the issue had not significantly been raised prior to October 2019. In fact, with reference to social media, requests for training and support had been linked to leadership and best practice in use rather than resilience or responding to misuse.
  • Suggestions for training and tools included: advice on safeguards/mechanisms already in place; learning new ways of using social media whilst engaging in safe conduct; how to be effective while not using social media; advice on legislative context and best practice examples and clarity around workplace health and safety requirements.

Next Steps

LGAT recognises the complexity of the issues related to online and other bullying and harassment and that ultimately there is no quick fix or once off training that will address the broad array of circumstances being experienced.  This survey was undertaken to help LGAT learn about the experiences of those elected to Local Government and to build upon early training and resource development.

LGAT will build upon our current tools and programs including  a model communications and social media policy; one of a suite of tools in our IR toolkit, and the Peer Advisor Program.  We have also developed some online resources leveraging off the recent social media training delivered regionally.

We are also currently exploring a broader offering on mental health and resilience – initially as part of our Elected Member weekend, recognizing that being an elected councillor can be a stressful role for a number of reasons including workload, public scrutiny and criticism and having to manage sometimes challenging relationships across a broad array of stakeholders.

We are grateful to and thank all the councillors who took the time to respond to the survey.

This page will be updated as resources become available.