Charities must record when employees use Twitter to campaign, Electoral Commission says

Electoral Commission

Charities must record when employees use Twitter to campaign, Electoral Commission says8

Finance | Emily Corfe | 13 Oct 2014

The Electoral Commission has said charities must record every time an employee is encouraged to tweet or post to Facebook about a potentially political issue, to check whether they should register under the Lobbying Act.

The Commission said it will monitor charities’ social media activity, including employees using personal accounts, in order to check whether those charities are compliant with the Act.

Speaking at the annual Charity Law Association conference last week, Kate Engles, head of policy at the Electoral Commission, spoke of a “two-pronged gateway test” that charity campaigners should examine to determine whether a campaign can be classed as party political. She said campaigns that meet both a “purpose test” and a “public test” will meet regulation requirements under the new rules.
“An organisation that regularly communicates by more informal means like Twitter, Facebook or commercial mailing lists would still be seen as part of the public. And this is quite an important thing for campaigners to think about when they are planning their activities,” she said.  
According to Engles, a charity campaign may meet regulation requirements even if it doesn’t mention political parties or candidates.
“The law says that you can be covered by the rules even if the activity is intended to achieve another purpose as well,” she said. “The activity and spending can be covered if it doesn’t specifically mention parties or groups of candidates. That’s to cover where people are trying to get around the rules and say they are doing something else.”
Guidance on social media use on the Electoral Commission’s website, says that the cost of a tweet is negligible but that charity campaigners need to consider the wider costs of using social media such as staff costs, design costs and the costs of images that are posted.

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission told Civil Society News: “We monitor social media, we monitor advertising and will we monitor what people are saying.

“If an organisation has ten members of staff and asks them to all post a tweet on their own profile, you would add up how much time that takes for someone to post a tweet. That would account towards their overall cost. They can spend a certain amount before they need to register with the Commission.

"What you would do is just keep a record of how much it costs ten members of staff to post a tweet and how much time that takes.

"If the organisation is encouraging its staff to do that then they need to keep a record of the fact that they have told their staff on X number of occasions that we would like you to post a tweet about the charity’s campaign.

“Some charities will be tweeting or Facebooking about something that’s not related to a general election campaign and obviously that doesn’t count.”

According to the Lobbying Act legislation, charities spending more than £20,000 per annum in England or £10,000 in the rest of the UK, are required to register with the Electoral Commission.

12 May 2015

The rules obviously don't apply in Scotland, judging by the comments, often vitriolic and personal, from SNP supporters within charity organisations. Whilst making no secret of connections to charities, many Facebook users have actively campaigned for the SNP, and derided people of different political persuasion. This is particularly inappropriate for officers of charities working with children who can be indoctrinated . Like everyone, charity workers are entitled to vote for who they want, but they should not be attempting to influence voters whilst being paid by many of those same voters.

Jeremy Barker
13 May 2015
Response to [Rick]

I think there is a clear difference between a message being sent through Twitter or Facebook from an account associated with a charity (which may be subject to the lobbying rules) and a message sent from a private individual's account who happens to mention they are connected with a charity (which I seriously doubt the rules could ever apply to).

Provided I do not do so as part of my employment and do not hold out that I am acting on behalf of the charity I work for, I see no reason at all why I should not try to influence how people vote. It's not like working in a politically restricted position in the Civil Service or local government.

Marketing Manager
17 Oct 2014

I'm a fundraiser. I also happen to be a local Councillor. And I use twitter. Does this mean that when I use twitter to talk about local politics it is going to impact on whichever charity I happen to be employed by at the time? ridiculous.

Gordon Hunter
Lincolnshire Community Foundation
13 Oct 2014

Ridiculous and could not possibly be enforced except, perhaps, in China.

Kathy Evans
Children England
13 Oct 2014

Now I wonder whether the management time taken to monitor, record and calculate the cost of all staff [re]tweeting time on 'relevant' campaign subjects, also counts as campaign expenditure?

Fiona Ellis
Trust Manager
Millfield House Foundation
13 Oct 2014

Mr Kafka, welcome back! Are we sure this isn't some form of satire?

Kathy Evans
Children England
13 Oct 2014

Proof if proof were needed that bad law becomes even worse practice. Unfortunately this takes things into the the realm of the ridiculous.

If all charities will seriously be expected to do this in order to assess whether they meet the threshold for registration in the first place, then all I can say is that the law has just been proved completely unworkable, even for those who are keen to comply.

Leon Ward
13 Oct 2014

The Electoral Commission clearly has too much money and time on its hands to produce ridiculous equations to calculate this nonsense. They have lost the plot.

And, Facebooking? Facebook is not a verb.


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