A councillor is lodging a formal complaint against Marvin Rees for blocking him on Twitter – just hours after he questioned the Bristol mayor’s right to block people on Twitter.
But Mr Rees said he was entitled to block whoever he wanted if he deemed they were “misleading, abusive, pointless or unnecessarily negative”.
Cllr Kent was blocked by the mayor’s Twitter account on Wednesday (July 7) morning after the opposition councillor had taken to social media the night before to share his annoyance at not being able to verbally ask the mayor a question during a council meeting, and that the written reply from Mr Rees ‘did not answer his question’.
During the member forum meeting, Cllr Kent had asked how many users on the social media site had been prevented from seeing the Labour mayor’s posts.
In Mr Rees’ written reply he said he had set up his Twitter account before becoming mayor and that he could choose what he did with it, including “blocking individuals who are abusive or deliberately spread misinformation”.
When asked why he had taken the action to block Cllr Kent, Mr Rees’ spokesperson said: “Twitter can be a very negative environment for many people and the mayor is offering an example to empower people to remove negativity from their lives.
“The mayor has blocked people who use personal abuse or deliberately spread misinformation.”
Responding to the statement, Cllr Kent said: “It is clear that the mayor has breached the members’ code of conduct in treating a fellow member with disrespect and making false statements about them – implying that I have engaged in personal abuse or lied.
“For too long we have allowed his behaviour to go unchallenged and I am afraid I am as guilty as anyone in not standing up to unacceptable behaviour by him.
“I will be submitting a formal complaint about this and asking for an external investigation.
“I am also contacting the external auditor, on advice of the National Audit Office, regarding a concern I have that he has misused public funds.
“The Twitter account of the mayor has been monitored via the council and external consultants to the tune of £100,000,” Cllr Kent said, referring to the council paying social media company Impact Social £36,000 a year over three years to harvest and analyse posts about itself and Mr Rees.
“To use public funds for monitoring of what he now claims is a private political account will require external investigation.”
Asked at a press conference on Wednesday morning whether Cllr Kent had posted anything inappropriate that merited blocking him, Mr Rees said: “I don’t have individuals that I target but I generally have criteria and I should set an example.
“If people are misleading, abusive, pointless or unnecessarily negative then I decide to block them.
“I am the mayor of the city and I am really concerned about people’s mental health.
“I am in the business of associating with positivity and people who have something to contribute to the city, not just moaning about it all the time and being unduly negative.
“What I hope is in the example I am setting in blocking people like that, other people feel the permission to block them on social media too.
“You do not have to have people in your life who are just pits of negativity all the time.
“That’s not what the city needs, the city needs hope.”
The mayor said Twitter was not the only way to communicate with him and that he did Facebook Lives, walkabouts and press conferences and that any councillor could contact his office to book an appointment with him.
“I am very accessible, but what is happening to our social media is a real shame,” he said.
“The example I am setting now is one we could probably all do well to take on, and maybe those people who indulge in pessimism farming would learn a lesson that that’s not the way you get your opinions out there.”
Mr Rees said his Twitter account had a “dual purpose”, having been set up before he was mayor and now using it in office.