LIBERAL Party candidates have been gagged ahead of next year's federal election, with Coalition backbench MPs under pressure to close their Twitter and other social media accounts.
Fairfax Media has learnt of a directive from the head office of the federal Liberal Party in an opposition bid to limit ''stuff-ups and scandals''. The directive to preselected candidates ''strongly advises'' against using Twitter and that tweeting on behalf of the Liberal Party is ''not encouraged''.
Several backbenchers have confirmed the strict measure, which was decided at the start of last month. One MP said the party was sending a clear message ''that depending on your seniority, use a great deal of caution when tweeting, and it is preferred that most MPs closed our social media accounts.
''It is a way to limit the stuff-ups and scandals obviously, but it seems a little draconian to me,'' the MP said.
''I wouldn't go as far as to say this is a free speech issue, but if I was pushed to close my account outright? Then you would hear from me loud and clear. On Twitter and elsewhere.''
Another MP said the decision was ''outrageous'' and a ''result of a bunch of nervous nellies in the head office who think we aren't capable of running our own offices without falling over our own feet.
''If the head office thinks their biggest problem is Twitter and that a rogue tweet might bring down the whole campaign, then I would suggest the suits get out and about in our electorates before issuing moronic instructions on social media from Canberra,'' the MP said.
A spokesman for Liberal leader Tony Abbott would not comment other than to say it was a matter for the national executive branch.
Calls to the Liberal Party federal secretariat were not returned.
It is believed preselected Liberal candidates in western Sydney were the first to be told of the Twitter blackout and several have privately made their displeasure clear to local party branches.
Labor MP Steve Gibbons caused a stir in the last week of Federal Parliament by calling Mr Abbott a ''gutless douche bag'' and Deputy Leader Julie Bishop a ''narcissistic bimbo'' on Twitter.
The tweet caused immediate problems for Labor given Prime Minister Julia Gillard's aggressive campaign against what she has called the Opposition Leader's misogyny.
Mr Gibbons later deleted the tweets and wrote, ''Apologies to those offended by the use of the word Bimbo. I'll replace that word with 'Fool'.''
In May, Liberal MP Kelly O'Dwyer defended controversial comments she made on the social media site about foreign workers and an overseas-born Labor senator as ''clearly ironic''.
Additionally, Liberal council candidate Matthew Hammon was forced to resign from the party in September when he sent a series of racially provocative tweets criticising Muslims in the aftermath of the anti-Islam film riot in Sydney in September.
The federal move to limit the use of Twitter is not the first time the Liberal Party has imposed a gag.
Last year, Queensland Liberal National Party candidates were encouraged to use Facebook rather than Twitter to connect with voters and avoid slip-ups ahead of the state election.
The Sydney Liberals also employed the tweet-gag on their council candidates in elections earlier this year.
A recent Fairfax Media analysis of political Twitter accounts showed of the 226 MPs in both houses of Parliament, 154 hold genuine, active Twitter accounts with a total of 167,928 tweets posted, and federal politicians amassed 2,388,166 followers between them.
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has easily the most Twitter followers - 1.17 million, four times as many as Julia Gillard and nearly as many followers as the rest of the federal politicians on Twitter combined.