Sorry – I’m only human

Yesterday there was a storm in the Twitter teacup when a local council posted something to their stream that arguably with hindsight they shouldn’t have.

I saw the post and while I can’t know what happened, it looked to me that a retweet had simply been posted to the wrong account, which is easily done especially when mobile and on an app that allows multiple accounts – I know – I’ve been there!

Back in December I was having a good old rant on my personal twitter account about a man on the bus who’d upset me! I was relaying the incident to my twitter followers and restricted by Twitter’s 140 character limit this took a succession of tweets which ended with me posting  in one final tweet: “The dumb fuck”.

I somehow managed to cross post that last message and only that last message to the WV11 facebook page, potentially insulting around 3000 people.  Once I’d realised what I’d done I quickly apologised, admitting what had happened and how, thankfully nearly everyone laughed it off. You can still see the public responses to it  here, I let it stand on the site as the “damage” was done and our analytics at the time showed us only one person out of the 3000 who use our page had reported it as being offensive.

Honesty is the best policy

What I learned from this was honesty went a long way. By being up front and admitting I made a mistake and explaining how it happened (it was slip of the finger), after all it was an accident, I’m only human  – it was accepted as just that and it blew over quickly.

It is quite likely it’s the same human error that occurred yesterday.

I know WV11 is a voluntarily run site and we don’t have the same restrictions placed on us that council officers do, but I feel it important to remember that they too are only human.  Let them apologise and move on.

To use this faux pas to score political points (I’m looking at you Mr Councillor who jumped on the condemnation band wagon, among others) and potentially force a knee jerk reaction by “management” to restrict or block Twitter access can only be bad for the community who use social media to communicate with their council.

Let’s not let the naysayers blow this out of proportion. Mistakes happen to the best of us.


21 thoughts on “Sorry – I’m only human”

  1. great post Steph and the correct advice in my opinion. Own up to mistake, apologise and move on….to err is human. How you deal with it is the important bit.

  2. I do feel that this misses the point. Council officers with responsibility have politically restricted posts, meaning they are forbidden to express a political point of view. In many councils this applies to the comms team, and in my view rightly so. Why not at Walsall? This post should never have been made by the officer in question: the account it was posted to is irrelevant.

    1. It misses no point as your input is separate to the point I was making. I was looking at how the relationship should be managed publicly not about HR issues internally.

      The link and #tag that was tweeted was politically sensitive but there should be an internal look at who was responsible and those dealt with by managers – not a public lambasting by elected members to score political points calling for “urgent investigations” that could result in ALL of the comms team being penalised and the access to social media withdrawn.

      On multiple occasions Walsall Council have been held up as an example of best practise of a council using social media, one mistake by one person shouldn’t be allowed to undo all that good.

      1. Then I think we will have to disagree. The way this was handled was poor: the initial response was (probably) a lie (“our account was hacked”), the next contradictory (“an unauthorised tweet”). Walsall may previously have been an example of good practice, but yet they haven’t got their heads round what is appropriate for personal accounts of officers in restricted positions. That is of legitimate public and political concern. Sorry Walsall, not good enough.

  3. Agree with apologising immediately. Disagree the rest Steph. The inappropriate message was followed by a claim of hacking. In my view a lie to cover one’s tracks, not an apology.

    The apology that did follow I suspect came from others, a corporate apology – ironic really as it represents the administration.

    I am dismayed at the attacks on my own colleague who is, seemingly, more of a villain than the perpetrator. For what? For reporting an alleged hack? He followed procedure by asking management to investigate and has left it at that. What else could he do, just let it be? And yes, it was urgent at the time.

    Do please put yourself in a politician’s shoes and imagine what it feels like when you have, apparently, an officer in a communications role who is openly opposed to your party’s views. Not at all comfortable and not at all appropriate.

    I do wonder what the reaction would have been had the inappropriate message originated from a Conservative leaning officer. My colleague is one of few who openly promotes social media and open data. To accuse him of taking action that would have the opposite effect is patently ludicrous.

    1. My post was not about the content of the errant update it was about how it could happen and reaction – I still maintain that the matter should be dealt with internally by managers – this should be a HR issue – and there was no need for anyone to step in unless this didn’t happen.

      The update I am referring to is this: “Not happy with @WalsallCouncil ‘hacking’. I’m asking the Chief Executive to urgently investigate how it could happen” – there is no mention of inappropriate content.

      The use of Social Media in local government is still in it’s infancy, it’s a steep learning curve that everyone is on but by publicly calling for “urgent investigations” before any internal action could have taken place as it’s a weekend I still feel was wrong, Enough middle managers are scared of Social Media I feel by using such emotive language publicly it COULD cause a knee jerk reaction – I’m not saying lesson don’t need to be learned, but I’m less concerned about how any one party feels about content or opinion and more about the wider implications for communication.

      1. Steph – the more you post on this the more you demonstrate your complete lack of understanding of proper conduct in a political environment. The post you quote is proper and restrained. The post that started the issue breached the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity. It could also have been illegal. It had to be taken seriously.

        And since when did twitter stop for weekends? Absurd suggestion.

      2. I never claimed to be a political commentator – nor have I commented on the appropriateness of the content of the original update – I’ve simply looked at it from a communications point of view.

        And who said twitter should stop for weekends? I suggest you read my response again – I merely suggested that a better way of responded would have been to wait and see what the internal response was and if improperly handled THEN call for action to be taken, my comment on the weekend was purely that managers had not been given time to deal with it before councillors stepped to call for a investigation.

      3. Agreed. This is a HR issue. It would seem to me that someone (inadvisably) had @walsallcouncil as a configured twatter account on their phone, and merely sent to the wrong account. Dumb yes, but not crime of the century. But of course, standard response is to pin the blame, rather than fix it, deal with it, and move on. I work on large, important IT systems, and I’ll say now: I have fucked up. I’ve shut down live servers, I’ve unplugged the wrong fibre. Shit happens.

        As to the politics? I don’t give a shit. If someone wants to post something about a left-leaning politician, that’s fine by me, even though my leanings are that way overall, because frankly, you are all as bad as one another. I just think that there is no reason for you all to be involved. There will (or should be) a disciplinary procedure in HR with a section on unauthorised use of council accounts: Use it. Give the guy a bollocking, tighten up who has access to @walsallcouncil, and then get on and do something more useful.

  4. ‘To use this to political point score’ is what you stated in your blog, falling just short of naming my colleague. How can you then say that this is looked at ‘from a communications point of view’ only?

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    Your analysis is too narrow and simplistic. Mr Ellis is spot on.

    1. No-one is trying to politically point score, Marco, because the rest of us *are not politicians*. Maybe we think differently: which way do you think the electorate as a whole think?

      1. Heh, and yet Steph’s blog states that political point scoring is going on as do several tweets etc. Read them. And trust me we could have made hay out this and we haven’t. Just as you say, it’s been left entirely to HR etc. but I will respond to inaccurate statements.

      2. You cannot make political statements, or comment on politicians, and then tell politicians to butt out. You enter the political sphere and carry the political consequences. There seems to be a complete lack of understanding on the role of politics in local government here.

  5. Political commentator: someone who posts on politics/politicians. That appears to be what you have done.

    You’re out of your depth.

  6. @marco So running to Mensch isn’t political point scoring?

    My other point is that no-one *here*, yourself included, is point scoring, so Steph’s point remains valid and doesn’t make my previous comment invalid. You’re defending your colleague, which is fair enough and to be expected, I suppose, but I consider his actions ill-judged, and trigger-happy.

    @Webb Ellis Yes I can 🙂 I choose not be involved in politics even though some aspects interest me because its so full of bullshit, and ths is a prime example. An officer has accidentally posted something. Nothing more, nothing less. No theft, fraud, or murder.

    My point here is there is a right and a wrong way to deal. Hopefully, WMBC have looked at their HR procedures and done the right thing.

  7. @stymaster
    – no-one ran to Mensch.
    – An officer accidentally posted something. Fine. But the difference here is that the officer posted something political, and that is not acceptable on any twitter account, let alone an official one. That’s the difference. Why? Because Local Government comms officers should be in politically restricted posts, so should not tweet anything political at all. The ‘wrong account’ is the wrong issue. It greatly concerns me that you don’t *get* this fundamental point.
    – By tweeting politics the officer (not *you*, wasn’t referring to *you* in the slightest) entered the political arena and must now bear the political consequences.
    – There is a right and wrong way to deal. The right way is for the Head of Paid Service to investigate. I hope that is what happens. That is all that the politicians asked to happen.
    – A politician asking for the Head of Paid Service to investigate is not an over-reaction.
    – Steph’s post in response to a politician asking a Head of Paid Service to investigate was an over-reaction. So was your response to this point being made.
    – I hope you don’t work in local government comms or have access to an official council twitter account. We’ve got to a sad state of affairs if you do.

    1. Actually the Cllr in question never mentioned the content on twitter when he asked for an investigation – he asked for it to be looked at HOW it could happen – hence what prompted my blog post and the commentators have failed to understand.

      Had the councillor expressed concern with the CONTENT then I would never have posted anything as I completely understand the need for council officers to remain impartial but he didn’t and this was my response so not an overreaction at all.

    2. Have to diagree with you on point 1, but I’m not going to post it here.

      Hmm. The person concerned was not on duty, I’d imagine. I don’t know what the T&C say, but the council do not own him. Freedom of speech and all that- but…..

      …I would agree that he is perhaps unwise in making his political beliefs so public given his job: I do not tweet or blog about my employer’s business and consider that good practice. There are many, many examples of this going badly wrong.

      I disagree about people’s reactions, on all points. The appropriate person to investigate is a direct line manager, or a HR manager.

      No, I don’t work in local gov comms, and have no desire to do so. I am but a lowly techie. I’d choke on the bullshit, and probably get sacked.

  8. This whole issue has been depressingly illustrative of the lack of understanding of human fallibility present in many commentators.
    Walsall Council’s account shouldn’t have tweeted anything with a political bias, and certainly not a tweet like that. We all know it, and nobody is defending that. It was regrettable, wrong, and it happened. Nobody died, the earth continued spinning and the republic of Walsall stayed calm.
    This issue has split down the middle between those of us who’ve experienced the ease of confusing two social media accounts and those who haven’t. I don’t keep such accounts for personal use – so there’s no pint searching for me as anything other than Bob on social networks, to avoid this very problem.
    I did for a while do promotional tweets for a local news site, a task to which I was wholly unsuited, to be honest. It was then that I understood the ease of confusion.
    What happened in this case appears to be that someone who doesn’t normally tweet for the council had access and accidentally confused the account. Regrettable, but easily done.
    To pretend that people working for a council don’t have their own views and can’t talk about them on their own time is just daft, and frankly the stuff of a totalitarian state. That does, however, have no business on a council account. Everyone acknowledges that.
    If the tweet had been anywhere on the political spectrum other than abusive extremism, my reaction would be exactly the same, as would most of the Walsall twitter community. I well remember, a million years ago in 2009, a naive and green young councillor posting a blog post about a council meeting that went very badly. The poor lad was attacked from outside, and despite his views on most things being a long way from mine, I openly defended him and blogged about it. The generally left-leaning community at the time that existed online circled the wagons around him, and stood up for him. I’d link to the post here, were it not to identify him or had not been recent removed along with the rest of the councillor’s blog.
    Therefore it was with a great deal of sadness that I saw the same chap – rather that taking a backchannel as he surely could have done – start bleating publicly, even to the extent of encouraging the openly trolling Louise Mensch. That, to me, was unsubtle and regrettable.
    People can go on pretending that this is some kind of heinous crime, but really, it’s a slip. Things will be tightened, things will be reviewed. Hopefully, the officer in question will escape with a stiff blocking. I feared at the time, that a person with kids could end up jobless of something so easy to do by accident. I hope that isn’t the case.
    In the meantime, the faux shock, horror and outrage will continue. And you can all kid yourselves that you’d be far more professional. But social media is full of such bear traps, and I feel that falling into one is bad enough, without torturing the poor sod that falls into one too.
    Meanwhile, Walsall’s social media presence, which is excellent, on the whole, should continue, and carry on improving and pioneering a way forward. Walsall – as a place and an authority – has lots wrong with it. Don’t let the bits which are right be tarnished by something so accidental.


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