After a string of online gaffes, politicians are being supplied with a dummies’ guide to social media ahead of the election.
Chiefs at Preston Council have produced fold-out cards warning councillors and candidates what not to do on the internet – including posting material likely to stir up racial hatred.
Politicians in Lancashire have found themselves in hot water over comments posted online, including a UKIP candidate who posted Facebook comments calling halal food “sick evil satanic”.
The new guide is designed to help politicians navigate the “virtual minefield”.
Liz Mahon, who stood for UKIP in last year’s Preston Council election, faced an investigation after she made posts hailing Enoch Powell, criticising Nigel Farage for paying tribute to Nelson Mandela and calling halal food “sick evil satanic”.
The candidate made a number of her posts on the Facebook pages of the far-right English Defence League and Britain First parties.
The posts were investigated by the party, and she later faced no further action.
A UKIP spokesman said: “Every mainstream political party has found themselves making headlines for the wrong reasons because of inappropriate or misconstrued remarks on social media.
“It can be a minefield for the unwary and so advice on the subject could well help prevent such unfortunate remarks.
“Liz Mahon is no longer a member of UKIP and is not involved with the party.”
Labour candidate Ben Whittingham also found himself at the centre of controversy last year after posting a tweet calling Winston Churchill a “racist” and a “white supremacist”, for which he later apologised.
The new survival guide now aims to help politicians avoid becoming “casualties of the democratic revolution”, and contains advice on using social media, information on how to work within the rules of elections, and how to avoid “potentially campaign ending” social media gaffes.
Author of the guide, Shirah Bamber, senior communications officer at Preston Council(pictured), said: “Social media can be an incredibly influential resource and is already playing a key role in the election campaign. Votes will be won and lost through a single post, share, or comment.
“In the upcoming months politicians face a virtual minefield of knowing what to share or not to share on their social media channels.
“We’ve created this survival guide to empower candidates, regardless of their political party, to embrace social media effectively, but also within the guidelines provided by the Electoral Commission.”
Social media trainer Jane Binnion welcomed the guide, saying there was very little guidance for politicians.
She said: “I think it will get heated and I think people will start saying things they shouldn’t say on social media.
“It is very new for us. Obama in 2008 used social media for his campaign, but people are still really nervous about it.”
Labour councillor Drew Gale, who has become involved in online rows including over the Palestinian flag, said he wouldn’t be changing his behaviour online.
He said: “There should be some basic ground rules, but likewise you shouldn’t stifle your opinion because the public at large needs to know what that opinion is if they are going to vote for us.
“There’s a balance to be found, and I think this guide finds it.”
Liberal Democrat councillor John Potter said: “When you are used to social media like I am, you think who would ever retweet something that’s racially offensive. But there are councillors who are new to social media who don’t realise how public everything is.”
Conservative councillor Charlotte Leach added: “For me it’s just common sense – don’t do anything stupid.”
Lancashire politicians are not the only ones to get in hot water on social media.
n Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigned in November after she tweeted an image of a house decked with St George’s flags, with a white van parked outside. She was called a “snob”.
n Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk was this week embroiled in a Twitter row with Katie Hopkins, in which he branded her comments “racist”.
n Jeremy Clarkson and shadow transport minister Michael Dugher traded insults online, when Clarkson said motoring show Top Gear was not made “for people who wear pink ties”.
n Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, was in hot water last year after a spat on Twitter in which he attacked supporters of e-cigarettes.