DEATH threats and racism towards councillors on social media has prompted calls for councils to better protect its members online.

Oxford City councillor Shaista Aziz, who says she has suffered racist abuse on social media, has appealed for more support after speaking out against internet trolls.

South Oxfordshire District Council, Vale of the White Horse District Council and Oxford City Council have pledged to increase social media training, with the latter's standards committee to be asked to adopt a social media policy for councillors in February.

The Oxford Mail contacted all district and county councillors about their experiences of online abuse, with responses highlighting attacks on topics from race to cycling advocacy.

Ms Aziz, an equalities and anti-racism campaigner, insisted she was 'lucky' that she did not suffer more abuse, but believes the issue needs to be treated more seriously.

She said: "I've had racist abuse in the past and had people making comments about my identity, but apart from that I'm lucky.

"It shouldn't happen in the first place but more work needs to be done to protect councillors - we are public figures so we are targeted.

"If someone wants to attack my political views I take that on the chin because I should be open to scrutiny.

"When they attack my identity that's a disgrace.

"We need councils to understand these attacks actually matter.

"This is bullying and it's very important we stand up to it."

The majority of the 40 councillors who responded said they had not suffered abuse on social media.

But six members revealed their experiences with trolls, including Jake Acock, West Oxfordshire District Councillor for Shipton and Ascott Under Wychwood.

A death threat was sent to Mr Acock's Facebook page after he proposed a motion calling for the council to support a People's Vote on Brexit in October.

The Liberal Democrat is the youngest councillor in Oxfordshire and believes his age makes him a target, calling online abuse a 'major issue'.

He said: "Because I'm different I'm immediately allowed to be attacked, which is wrong.

"For people to threaten my life and say I don't understand because I'm young is just appalling."

Other councillors mentioned less extreme forms of online abuse, with city councillor Mary Clarkson receiving comments from one user over a period of three weeks regarding her opposition to the Swan School planning application.

The Twitter user's account was non-personalised and difficult to track and the councillor admitted this affected her.

She said: "It did unnerve me a bit and I felt anxious whenever I saw that I had a Twitter notification from someone for several weeks.

"They also encouraged some of their friends to weigh in on the issue too, so I did feel under attack and a number of colleagues saw what was happening and were concerned about me."

Ms Clarkson, the council's board member for city and culture, conceded councillors treaded a fine line on social media.

She said: "As a councillor, one feels that one should always be accountable to the public, so that even when your actions or views are challenged in an aggressive way, you still feel that you ought to respond to explain your views.

"Blocking somebody can come across as an aggressive move and it looks bad for a councillor to be shutting down conversation with a constituent.

"Sometimes this just encourages them to come back and throw more mud at you."

Oxford City Council provides members with social media training during an annual session on the Code of Conduct, Ethics and Behaviours provided by the monitoring officer.

In addition to developing a social media policy, spokesperson Mish Tullar said the council was working on providing additional training for councillors.

He added: “Given the rapid expansion of social media we will be providing additional guidance to all councillors on use of social media.

“Our member services team and communications team are there to provide general advice and support to councillors.

“If a councillor was being abused on social media this would potentially be a matter for the police.”

Oxfordshire County Council gives code of conduct training to councillors on the 'key principles that apply to councillors when acting in their county councillor role', including social media.

A spokesperson said: “Full council did agree unanimously to endorse the principle that online abuse across the whole arena of public and political debate should be called out and that respect is of the utmost importance.

"County councillors would contact the council’s monitoring officer if they suffer abuse on social media."

South Oxfordshire and Vale of the White Horse District Councils have never had reports of abuse from councillors, but spokesperson Lucy Billen revealed the councils were looking into providing better social media training.

She said: "If any councillor encounters any issues as a result of their work for the council, on social media or elsewhere, they can contact the democratic services team for advice and support.

"We have never had any councillors reporting social media or online abuse."

She added: "Councillors are able to contact the communications team for advice and guidance on social media, and we are currently looking into whether it would be helpful or necessary to provide some more detailed guidance or training for councillors’ personal use of social media."

West Oxfordshire District Council did not say whether its councillors receive training or guidance over their use of social media.

Cherwell District Council did not respond to a request for comment.