Page header image

About Us

The Standards Commission is an independent body whose purpose is to encourage high ethical standards in public life through the promotion and enforcement of Codes of Conduct for councillors and those appointed to the boards of devolved public bodies.

Social Media: Avoid the Pitfalls!

1st April 2022

We have previously noted in this blog that social media has huge advantages in terms of enabling those in public life to engage and interact with the public directly. It gives politicians and members of devolved public bodies an effective way of informing the public about the work their council or public body is proposing or undertaking, and allows them to engage with the public on policy issues.

As we all know social media can also be used to combat misinformation and win over hearts and minds, to the extent that it is now even used effectively as a weapon of war.

Social media does, of course, have its pitfalls. It can enable the spread of misinformation and be misused by those who wish to threaten, bully and harass others. Such “trolls” are able to use online forums to deliberately provoke others by making inflammatory and offensive comments with relative impunity.

Unfortunately, politicians and those in public life are often the targets of such abuse and threats. This is completely unacceptable and is frequently a reason why individuals decide not to stand for election or put themselves forward for positions in public life. This has a negative impact on representation and can erode democracy. 

While we understand politicians and others in public life face provocation, we consider they have a duty to lead by example when using social media themselves. They should resist any urge to engage with individuals who are being rude and abusive towards them and others or, even worse, to stoop to that level.

The Standards Commission has seen an increase in complaints from members of the public being referred to us about the conduct of councillors on social media. These include cases where the councillor in question has been rude or abusive to a member of the public, or where they have posted or shared offensive content. We’ve also seen cases where complaints have been made about posts that appear, on the face of it, to be relatively harmless and non-contentious, but have not been taken that way by members of the public.

We have produced advice notes on the use of social media for councillors and members of public bodies in Scotland, which are aimed at helping those in public life avoid the pitfalls and reduce the likelihood of them being the subject of complaints. These advice notes can be found on our website at:

In the advice notes, we urge councillors and members, before commenting or posting on social media to think about:

  • the immediate and permanent nature of any comment, and the fact that they will have no control over the extent to which it is shared, and by whom;
  • whether they would feel comfortable making the comment or post in person;
  • whether they are treating others with respect and consideration;
  • whether ‘liking’, re-posting and re-tweeting comments or posts, or publishing links to other sites could be reasonably regarded in the circumstances as endorsing the original opinion, comment or information on other sites (and whether they have read fully and understood properly any content that you are commenting on, ‘liking’, re-posting or re-tweeting);
  • the fact that tone can be harder to convey online and what they intend as humour, irony and sarcasm might not be perceived as such; and
  • whether anything they post could be considered rude, abusive or obscene.

 And, obviously, whether it is helpful to respond or comment – often it will be better to pause, take a moment and move on.