Facebook comments under fire

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AN APPEAL to clamp down on unsocial comments on social media sites such as Facebook will be sent to federal Attorney-General George Brandis by Frankston Council.

Councillors at the 25 September public council meeting voted to write to the federal Coalition government minister to urge “greater controls” be put in place around “statements made through Facebook and social media” since “there is currently limited or little accountability or penalty to the writer”.

The push to urge the federal government to clamp down on social media “cowardly attacks” by people “under false or assumed identities” is being led by Cr Glenn Aitken who admitted he is not a digital native.

“I don’t have Facebook, thank goodness, and social media. I’m actually much blessed that I haven’t engaged in it,” Cr Aitken said at the meeting.

“However, I do get reliably informed about many of the comments that are made on Facebook.

“I don’t give a stuff what people say about me … it doesn’t worry me but some people are impacted heavily by what is said on social media.”

Councillors did not mention any specific Facebook pages during the lengthy debate about social media comments.

Several pages focused on politics at federal, state and council levels have sprung up on Facebook in recent months.

Most councillors backed Cr Aitken’s notice of motion at the September meeting but some acknowledged council’s call is likely to have little impact on the rising online worldwide problem of people making abusive and false comments using fake names.

“It is the responsibility of Facebook to take it down,” Cr Michael O’Reilly said. “People have been saying nasty things about each other since the dawn of time … and in politics, it’s even worse.

“People seem to think that anyone, whether they’re local councillors or the Prime Minister, is just fair game.”

Deputy mayor Cr Steve Toms, who was accused by Frankston Labor MP Paul Edbrooke last month of condoning alleged defamatory comments on Facebook, slammed people who bully others online.

“It is the most depraved person who gets behind a fake profile on social media and tries to drag down another human being. This is happening a lot out there in social media land,” Cr Toms said.

“There are people who are being led to suicide as a result of cyberbullying.

“It is a real serious issue going on in modern society today.”

Cr Quinn McCormack said cyberbullying “is a very real problem”.

“Social media, unfortunately has a dark side and that has unleashed an avalanche of invective and abuse,” she said.

“One has to ask as well, why would anyone go into politics if they, and by association, their loved ones, were subjected to systematic opportunistic and gratuitous abuse? It’s intimidation. Do as we say or we will target you.

“There is no justification for political commentary that’s vile and harassing.

“Passionate political discourse is not an excuse for abusing people.”

Cr Kris Bolam said anonymous abuse online is “a very sad reflection of society in general”.

“Pseudonyms and fake profiles are becoming unfortunately, in my opinion, the norm on Facebook,” he said.

“The reality is there are losers who sit behind their keyboards and type out malicious comments and hide behind fake profiles.”

Cr Colin Hampton was the sole councillor who voted against the notice of motion to write to Mr Brandis.

Cr Hampton said existing defamation laws mean people can take legal action.

“There are already laws in place to stop this … I can’t see what further controls you can have.”

He said people who administer and manage Facebook group pages should quickly take down abusive comments made by other people and apologise to avoid the possibility of being sued for defamation.

For crisis support and counselling call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the suicide call back service on 1300 659 467.

First published in the Frankston Times – 9 October 2017

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