Warnings on social media use ahead of South Gippsland election

South Gippsland council will go to the polls in October – more than two years after the council was dismissed.

Candidate nominations open on Thursday 16 September with voting closing on Friday 22 October in the postal vote.

But a rise in complaints about social media activities by candidates and the community during the 2020 general council elections should serve as a warning.

The Inspectorate’s report on the 2020 council elections found that complaints about social media and online activities had tripled since 2016.

The report recommends that the Local Government Act 2020 be amended so that it specifically includes social media and other online or electronic publications.

During the general election period in 2020, we received 266 complaints relating to social media, rising from 78 in 2016. One in every three complaints was raised about content that was published online.

Of the complaints about social media, 76 per cent of complaints were about Facebook, 11 per cent were about websites, 10 per cent about email and 3 per cent about other online material.

The breakdown of complaints about social media and online content during the council elections was: social media 76%, email 10%, website 11% and other online 3%.

Chief Municipal Inspector Michael Stefanovic AM said:

Social media is free and easy to use, consequently, it is a very popular place to campaign. However, regulation and limitations on content posting have been slow to occur.

The ability for people to set up anonymous or unauthorised political accounts may have allowed some candidates or campaigners to post false, misleading or abusive material in the council elections last year.

We saw examples of candidates blocking their opponent meaning that the tool which was touted as the champion of free speech was used to stop debate or stop the right of reply.

“We urge candidates and the wider community in South Gippsland to act courteously to each other online and remember that they are responsible for their actions online,” Mr Stefanovic said.

South Gippsland Shire Council was dismissed by an Act of Parliament in June 2019 after the resignation of six councillors between September 2018 and the dismissal.