Trustees are increasingly using social media and other technologies to communicate and engage with their communities. Social media can be an effective and efficient tool for connecting with large numbers of people. As elected officials, trustees are subject to legal and policy obligations that may not apply to private citizens who use social media. For example, a trustee’s communications may be guided by relevant board policies (such as codes of conduct) that a private citizen would not need to follow. Trustees should ensure that they use social media tools in a way that is consistent with these legal and policy obligations.
The following are some legal and policy considerations trustees may wish to keep in mind when using social media:
- Board policies and procedures: Familiarize yourself with relevant board policies that may provide guidance regarding communications by trustees. For example, some boards have policies regarding communications, trustee codes of conduct and trustee roles and responsibilities.
- Authority to speak on behalf of the Board: When communicating your own views via social media, clearly indicate that you are speaking on your own behalf and not on behalf of the board of education.
- Confidentiality: Trustees should consider whether they have authorization to publically disclose information that they wish to share via social media. Laws such as the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) place limits on the use and disclosure of information in the possession and control of public bodies (such as boards of education). Trustees should also be aware of board decisions to address certain business in closed meetings and to limit public disclosure of this business.
- Human rights: A trustee’s communications may give rise to allegations of breach of the BC Human Rights Code. The Code outlines prohibited grounds of discrimination including: race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or age. Of particular relevance to trustees and boards are the Code provisions regarding discrimination in services, discrimination in employment and discriminatory publication. Complaints of discrimination may be made by school district employees, students, members of the public etc.
- Defamation: A trustee’s communications may give rise to allegations of defamation (i.e. injury to a person’s reputation). A person may start a law suit claiming an entitlement to compensation for the statements that were made about them.
- Copyright: Consider whether you have authorization to copy, post or otherwise distribute work that belongs to others.
- Bullying and harassment: Online conduct may give rise to allegations of bullying and harassment. Allegations of this nature may be pursued in various forums including through WorkSafe BC, civil court proceedings and criminal prosecutions.
These are just some considerations to keep in mind if you use social media.
This article is intended to provide general information (and not a legal opinion).
By: Audrey Ackah, Legal Counsel, BC School Trustees Association