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I think the evidence strongly suggests both. There …

Comment posted Council now deploys online ‘Spy Accounts’ in covert surveillance of local critics by Dr Douglas McKenzie.

I think the evidence strongly suggests both.

There is of course nothing wrong with a council making full use of social media – indeed this is to be applauded. However, as Ms Smith’s own slides emphasise a council must make it transparent and obvious that the “persona” being used is the Council. If council employees were using pseudonyms to allow them to covertly join the Facebook pages of campaign groups then this is serious stuff. If they were further using pseudonyms to comment on blog sites (such as FA) and these were trolling activities then this is very serious. As regulars on here will know I have previously aired concerns that the “Simon” troll may have been emanating from the Council.

ARSN took spying by the Council very seriously and we vetted all e-mail addresses and used our own, non-public forum to ensure that our private discussions remained just that. I am sure, however, that many of the schools campaigners that used Facebook for their own school’s campaigns will be horrified to discover that the Council seem to have been monitoring their communications.

The large pachyderm in the room revolves around what the Council used the information it gathered for. There may have not just been a breach of ethical standards here but also the possibility of criminal activity relating to the Data Protection Act.

Yet again, I’m agog.

Dr Douglas McKenzie also commented

  • Thanks Sandy.
  • Derek: would you supply a link to these comments?
  • Samantha (AKA Blackjack):
    I’m pleased to find that you are a “real” person and not a troll. I have no problems with you defending the Council if you want to. My point in responding to your post was that the Council has lost so much trust that bogey men are seen everywhere. Thanks to Ms Jones I’m sure there are lots of people this weekend checking their Facebook accounts for suspicious “friends”.

    There is no point in criticising FA’s style – it is their blog. We don’t pay for it and they can say what they like. We can criticise what they say but not their right to say it. Do they advertise themselves as an online broadsheet? As to SNP bias, as we recently had an article suggesting that that the SNP was lurching towards fascism!

    Good luck with your studies.

  • Blackjack may be an innocent member of the public protesting about unfair treatment of the Council but given the subject of this thread I suspect pretty much EVERYONE will be wondering if this is in fact coming from a team within the Council. Note the similarities to “Simon’s” modus operandi:

    1: Pseudonym
    2: Shoot the messenger
    3: Deflect attention from the subject matter
    4: Agree with another comment (possibly itself coming from someone else in the team) to give the appearance of a body of opinion
    5: Defend the Council (note the sly accusation that FA doesn’t cover good news stories about the Council – both suggesting bias AND suggesting that there is a lot of good news about the Council)
    6: Attack the SNP (even when the story has nothing to do with them).

    Being paranoid doesn’t mean that people are NOT out to get you and Ms Smith has raised the level of paranoia in Argyll to a whole new level.

  • Adrian: As I said in an earlier post, innocent until found guilty but your comment has been superseded by the second story on this issue in the Herald. In it Ms Smith admits to setting up dummy “spy” accounts to access Facebook pages that she would have otherwise have been “uncomfortable” accessing using her Council identity. She excuses this by saying that she did this under her own volition and in her spare time – so this is all OK as there are “no rules” about such access.

    If we can put to one side the possibility that Ms Smith is being misreported in the second article, it seems to confirm that that Ms Smith was indulging in activities that were at least unethical The excuse that this was out of hours activity does not wash for a moment. The issue of what any information that Ms Smith gathered was used for will determine whether or not her activities were simply unethical or potentially illegal.

    What is without doubt is that she has brought the Council into disrepute – even if this is based on a misunderstanding (and her own words suggest otherwise).

    The fact that the Council is even under suspicion of spying on the citizens of Argyll is a major communication failure. Unless Ms Smith was acting under the direct instruction of her line manager or the CEO then I do not see how she has any course open to her except to resign.

    I agree with you on the necessity for ABC to immediately release a full list of what sites were “spied” upon and I repeat my earlier call for the independent enquiry to cover not just Ms Smith’s activities but to investigate if council staff or councillors were using pseudonyms on forums (such as FA) so they could attack opponents on line.

    The public’s trust in ABC had already been severely damaged by the Council’s approach to the schools closure proposals. This latest incident does nothing to reassure people that the Council has learnt anything about the fact that trust must be central to the relationship between the Council and the people it is supposed to serve.

Recent comments by Dr Douglas McKenzie

  • Rustle with Russell
    More utter rubbish from Lynda Henderson. Have you actually spoken to Bob Allen? Whoever told you the story sold you a pup and in your arrogance you cannot admit to be wrong so you make up this story that he was persuaded not to resign.

    Your position is completely untenable.

  • Russell back in the bathtub, now trying to sink Keith Brown’s boat
    I’m afraid you condemn yourself by your own words. I don’t think that anyone reading what you have written here and the language you have used would conclude anything other than that you have a deep dislike for Mr Russell and that dislike is leading you to basically lose all sense of either proportion or impartiality. It doesn’t matter how well (or otherwise) you know Mr Russell you are clearly exercised by your interpretation of his actions and it is leading you well beyond the pale in what I would consider fair comment.

    This vendetta against Mr Russell and the SNP is destroying FA’s credibility and I have to confess that I’m seriously considering whether or not to continue reading FA (which will cheer Malcolm up if nothing else). I for one am becoming increasingly disenchanted by the constant negativity and sheer nastiness that has crept into this blog. I say that with a lot more sorrow than anger because I think that FA could have been great and indeed still could but there has to be a degree of balance, civility and indeed humour. All we are getting here is bile and it is causing me heartburn.

  • Russell back in the bathtub, now trying to sink Keith Brown’s boat
    To be honest, this post clearly shows that you are speaking from your personal dislike of Mr Russell rather than an unbiased analysis of the man. Phrases such as “publicity hungry coward” are well beyond what is reasonable comment.
  • Russell back in the bathtub, now trying to sink Keith Brown’s boat
    You don’t seem to understand the separation of a MSP’s duty to his or her constituency and their responsibilities as a Government Minister.

    Yet again, this is another instance where a member of the Government can do no right: speak up and be condemned as “desperate” or stay silent and be accused of not serving your constituents’ interests.

    It is just as well that Mr Russell has broad shoulders!

  • Atlantic Islands Centre for Luing: biggest investment in island’s history
    Well done Luing – an inspiration to all of Argyll’s communities.

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