Council candidates warned by watchdog over social media use

COUNCIL candidates are being warned to watch what they're posting on social media, with the majority of requests received by the election watchdog involving allegedly false and misleading online claims.

The independent Council Election Observer, lead by retired judge John Robertson, has only received one request relating to Ipswich by mayoral candidate Gary Duffy.

As the matter had already been referred to the Electoral Commission of Queensland, the ICEO could not accept it to avoid an overlap.

The watchdog has received 33 requests from 27 individuals so far across the state.

"It would be easy to assume some of the councils which have experienced difficulties in the recent past would feature prominently in ICEO requests, like, for example, Ipswich," Mr Robertson said.

"But that would be to ignore the sweeping reforms that have been made to the local government election laws in the wake of the (Crime and Corruption Commission's) Operation Belcarra report.

"Because the ICEO is an Australian-first it was impossible to know how many requests might be made to it so nothing would have surprised me - being absolutely inundated or the complete opposite.

"We have to remember that while many candidates have already flagged to their communities they're standing or re-standing for election on March 28, the Electoral Commission Queensland has yet to publish its notice of election (on February 22) … we won't be surprised if the number of requests ramps up after then."

Mr Robertson said the majority of requests have involved allegedly false or misleading claims posted on Facebook.

"There's also been a couple of challenging comments made in newspaper articles and a few relating to campaign materials," he said.

"One finalised case related to a radio interview.

"Fake news and false allegations published on social media can, I think, undermine democracy and our election processes, in this case our local government election processes. That was certainly the idea behind trialling the ICEO."

Mr Robertson said social media was a fantastic tool for candidates to spread their message and quickly connect with residents.

But something said in the heat of the moment and posted with a few taps of the keyboard and a click could have longstanding consequences.

"Because of how quickly things can be shared and spread online, care should be taken by candidates and the public that what they are posting or what they're saying in their comments is fair and true," he said.

"Serious reputational damage can be done and quickly.

"In my view, voters should satisfy themselves about who owns or manages the pages or other social media accounts, or what entities, political or otherwise, might be behind them, and what their motivations might be.

"Another good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, before you hit send after banging out a post or a comment or a tweet, 'Is this something I would say to that person's face?'"