Social Media – Protecting our important community networks

Social media has become an integral part of our daily lives. It forms a series of interconnecting community networks, like a strong web with multiple intersections. We use it to find our kids, communicate on holiday, make a request to the community at large, gather interest for projects and give support when needed. We use it vigorously during storms, fire risk days, reporting road blocks and trees down. Trusted groups pop up to sell second hand items, ponder ideas for the future or share a moving video or link.

I will never forget when my son sent me a Facebook message, saying, “Where are you?” as a terrible car wreck had been reported in the area and people had been killed. That kind of message would have rung out through the hills 100s of times, a community roll call of sorts. Community group Facebook pages have become places where the community gather, consoles itself, raises money and commemorates people. These are ordinary everyday trusted networks used by the community which trundle along, always there when needed. We trust each other in these networks and feel a bit of a social embrace – we are not alone, even when we are.
We have built a socially cohesive framework that has served us well for years, especially through bush fire season and storm events. People gather in their community “cyber-squares”, compare notes, report what they have seen and check with each other. This is a powerful trusted base for social cohesion in high risk environments.

But our trusted networks can come under fire.

When dark social media intruders invade our social neighbourhoods with hate agenda, promote violence and abuse others, they damage our connections, our support networks and our feeling of safety and security. For example, Emerald Community House and other local groups and small businesses have become targets of cyber-sniping from local hidden identities. Unhappy about ECH’s public position regarding human rights, they have become obsessed with attacking our programs that help people connect in our community. Employees have been demonised, stalked and threatened. Some businesses have been slandered in an attempt to degrade their decades of service in the community. These Facebook shapeshifters are confident in their anonymity, feel that they can strike anyone anywhere and are poisonous to our social networks. The intention of these cyber-snipers is to provoke extreme reactions, incite violence, create fear in others and demonise innocent people.

As a Community House, we make a commitment to support our community through programs that are inclusive, connecting, fun, educational, supportive and strengthening. That is our job. ECH holds a progressive agenda and we do not exist to give free speech to those who support violence, hate, xenophobia, racism, sexism or anything which we deem harmful. As a charity not for profit incorporated association made up of local residents, we are politically aware and are not afraid to speak up about any action from a local, state or federal perspective. We are also not afraid to take a public stand. For when we do, others come, confident that they can stand with us and speak up too. We will not tolerate hate agendas and encourage people in the community to share their experiences with us if they have been targeted, bullied, abused or threatened.

As a next step, we plan to organise social media workshops in 2017 to increase our collective community strength in managing social media risks and to contain the impact of those who would lurk in the dark corners of our networks and put our communities at risk.

“The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.”
– Lieutenant General David Lindsay Morrison AO, Australian of the Year 2016
“A community that forgets what matters becomes barren and forlorn” – Julian McMahon, Victorian Australian of the Year 2016