Disclosure: I can’t say, publicly, much of what I would say privately about a small number of members of the Coffs Harbour Facebook group known as “Advocates for Advancement” (AfA), primarily because to do so would demean me personally, as I sank to levels of behaviour which were no higher than theirs.
I, and others, have consistently and publicly opposed the actions of certain members of this group, for more than two years. To speak freely would almost certainly involve me in having to mount a truth defence against several defamation suits.
Although I have a substantial bank of evidence, enough to ensure success in mounting a truth defence, it would involve me in further extensive research, and the compilation of even more evidence. I believe in being thorough, and have always followed the policy, when threatened, of using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.
It would also require the involvement of numerous other people, committed supporters of the campaign to “out” the offensive members AfA publicly. I’m not prepared to ask favours, which I know would be willingly granted, of so many people who may be entirely fed up with the whole sorry saga.
However, despite the fact that these few members of AfA have caused real distress to some people during the last couple of years, through threats and abuse delivered via Facebook, voicemail, and in person, it’s the actual existence of such an organisation which truly interests me.
My reasons for writing are several.
I thought that it would be a good idea to chronicle the events of the last few years, in order to facilitate reflection by those who have endured them.
I also thought that, by writing a personal perspective on these events, I might be better able to understand my own involvement in them.
However, my principal motivation lies in my belief that, if you put up with people dumping shit on you, you can expect to eventually suffocate beneath the pile.
Whilst much of the following contains provable fact, the assertions are purely statements of opinion.
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Here is some background, for the benefit of readers who are not familiar with the shit fight which has passed for political leadership in Coffs Harbour during the last few years. If you have been involved from the beginning, you might want to skip some paragraphs.
Very briefly, the Mayor and some councillors, having been elected largely on the promise of providing a new entertainment venue, a new art gallery, library and museum, decided to include, in the new building, some new offices for the mayor and senior council officers, and workspace for administrative employees.
More than 15 000 people, about one third of the voting population, signed a petition protesting the plan to include the council offices, and 800+ submitted formal written objections. The Mayor basically said “Up yours!”, and went ahead with the project. She was supported by three other councillors, at least one of whom possibly had vested interests as a property owner in the CBD.
Due to previous Mayoral incompetence, Coffs Harbour Council was one councillor short, and this resulted in tied votes (4-4) on most matters pertaining to the new council offices. No matter, the Mayor just used her casting vote, in a manner in which it was never intended to be used, to push her plan through.
Community members who had previously been very upset about the fact that their petition and submissions had been ignored, went apeshit when they found out about the Mayor’s totally undemocratic behaviour.
From that point a very bad situation got decidedly worse.
Enter a very small troupe of aggressive players, who declared loudly and repeatedly, to anyone who would listen, and many who wouldn’t, statements insinuating this:
“Anyone who opposes the inclusion of council offices in the construction of the Cultural and Civic Space, is a raving troglodyte, a heathen, and an enemy of fine culture.”
The fact that there was virtually no opposition to the creation of new cultural spaces in the purpose-built structure, seemed to have conveniently escaped the understanding of these individuals. 99.99999% of opponents of the building, objected exclusively to the inclusion of council offices, at great additional expense, in a building originally intended to be a cultural precinct.
You see, across the breadth of society, some people need an excuse, any excuse, to fight. You really need to understand the personality types at play here, something which I’ll try to explain further, a little later on.
With the exception of one individual, who specializes in “low key” innuendo and assertion as preferred weapons for use in character assassination, the aforementioned players got stuck in, via social media usually, but also in public situations such as council meetings, heaping vitriol on anyone who held a view which was different to theirs.
Despite the fact that there was significant and growing support for the building of the new cultural spaces, the barrow which this small group pushed, was that people who opposed the new council offices were all bogans who actually opposed all cultural improvement.
Try as they might, no-one could persuade these characters that it was the inclusion of council offices which was the contentious issue, and not the provision of new cultural spaces.
As a result of their inappropriate conduct, genuine Facebook managers refused to allow certain individuals to abuse and insult other commentators. A Facebook page, “Advocates for Advancement”, a private, closed shop, open only to invited members, including some who were more than willing to heap abuse on opponents of the new council offices, was created.
The ensuing two-year barrage of invective and abuse, albeit initially concealed from those who were being insulted and abused, was, allegedly, all in the defence of “culcha”.
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The AfA Facebook group is one of many “special interest” social media groups.
Special interest groups generally range in attitude and purpose, from the benign to the to the deadly. Members range in commitment level from mildly interested to fanatical. The apparent personality types represent a cross section of humanity, and include those who are well-balanced, socially positive individuals, as well as some who are emotionally damaged, irrational, and potentially dangerous.
A cursory examination of the social media scene in America reveals much about the makeup and impacts of social media groups upon that society, and in Australia we unfortunately tend to copy the worst aspects of American culture.
In examining the diverse nature of the members of social media groups, let’s consider the varying impacts of purpose, upon the behaviours of members of a range of imaginary groups.
“Poodles As Pets” is a page set up specifically for the engagement of people who are poodle fanciers. Is it likely that we’ll see here, the types of abusive behaviours which we have witnessed elsewhere?
Probably not. The vagaries of human nature, and the range of personality types which span society, ensure that, whilst the vast majority of posts would probably be mild in nature, there may be some occasional strong debate about poodle-related issues. There may even be some members who are fanatical in their views, but I suggest that it is unlikely that we would witness verbal fisticuffs on this page.
“Home Care Nurses” create a page for the dissemination of information and the sharing of ideas which are specifically related to the work which nurses in home care situations carry out.
Let’s consider the possible range of personality types contributing to this type of group. Most nurses are tertiary qualified, intelligent people who have a vocational calling. Even allowing for the extraordinary breadth of human personality types, I can’t see too many “pro-gun lobby, racially-prejudiced extremists” posting on this page.
Comments are likely to centred around patient care, nursing techniques and the welfare of nurses who often operate in stressful situations. Again, is it likely that we would see here, evidence of the behaviours which we have witnessed in other places?
“Ford Versus Holden” – even the title of this Facebook page suggests an oppositional approach to content generation. Some of us might immediately think of this group as “blokey”, perhaps even macho or misogynistic. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Rachel is the founder and admin of this page. A highly qualified, skilled and experienced mechanic, she inherited her love of older Holden cars from her parents, who were both Holden fanatics, and who revelled in the glory days of Holden’s dominance of Mount Panorama. In her spare time, Rachel prepares and races a 1973 Torana LJ XU1.
The page is run according to strict guidelines, with a committee formed to ensure compliance and the adherence to rules relating to the use of appropriate language in posts. Members who make derogatory personal statements are formally warned by the committee chairperson and then, if necessary, ejected from the group for non-compliance.
Although light-hearted banter between Ford and Holden aficionados is permitted, content must be directly related to the sharing of mechanical information relating to both Fords and Holdens, reminiscences around the two makes, and the organisation of regular “drives”, when participants turn up in their chosen chariots for day on the road.
This page has a membership of over 8 000, which includes participants from New Zealand, and in a parallel page, in the US, where it follows an identical charter under the name “Ford Versus GM”.
It appears that the on-going success of this page is due to the administration provided by Rachel, and the group’s total focus upon their chosen subject. Fanaticism is allowed, but only about cars.
AfA administrators, in numerous published statements, decreed that the sole purpose of the AfA page was to support the construction of the “Cultural and Civic Space”, as it was known when first proposed.
My research, with input from other concerned people, and with the benefit of the documentation provided by the disenchanted AfA whistle-blowers, whose courage has brought the AfA group to its knees, suggests that the stated charter has been largely ignored.
Comments on this page seem primarily to have been dominated by a small number of individuals, whose mindset created an atmosphere in which confrontation, accusation, insult and abuse of non-members, were tolerated.
“Coffs Coast Independent News” (CCIN) is not an imaginary page. Strictly and scrupulously administrated and moderated, this page follows the following stated charter:
“We aim to bring news and discuss issues relating to the Coffs Coast.
We alert the community to political, environmental, business and social issues affecting the lives of the people of the region and beyond.
We provide the connection between the communities on the Coffs Coast.
We are independent and not connected to any other media organisation, Local Government Council or political party.
We rely on “citizen reporters” for our news and views
We welcome and encourage photos of our beautiful Coffs Coast and Hinterland to be shared on our Page.
All opinions expressed are either those of the Admin, Moderators and contributors.
We accept no responsibility for their content.
If you have a problem with our content, please message Administration in the first instance.
We reserve the right to publish or reject Posts and accept membership.”
With almost 6 000 members, at the time of writing, this must surely be considered a successful group, since it represents roughly 8-9% of the entire Coffs Harbour population, and about 13% of the LGA’s voting public.
Comments on a range of local issues are posted frequently, by a significant number of contributors. No one is prevented from participating, unless their on-line behaviour is unacceptable. The tone is generally calm and respectful, but occasionally discussion becomes a little fractious. When this occurs, moderators intervene in order to ensure that bullying or aggressively negative behaviour is curtailed.
As a platform for Coffs Harbour Council election candidates to provide information about themselves and their policies, and to provide an easy interface for voters to access their candidates, CCIN admin established a second page, the “Elections 2021 Forum”, dedicated to this purpose.
I suspect that it has been the administration and moderation of this page which has provided the greatest challenge to CCIN’s page managers, in recent times.
Whilst the vast majority of contributions to the Elections Form, from candidates and voters, have been quite appropriate, the policy of allowing all respectfully expressed comment has been tested on occasion.
It has become an unwritten, but commonly observed principle for members of both CCIN pages, that disclosure of any potential conflict of interest, or apparent vested interest, is made by genuine contributors who wish to discuss or debate fairly.
That practice, when ignored, is most commonly ignored by confrontational and combative contributors, for whom the opportunity to fight with someone, appears to supersede any desire to discuss relevant issues.
It is not coincidental that some of these contributors, who are ultimately blocked from participation in discussion due to their habit of attacking the person and not the argument, have been revealed as active members of the AfA. Their previously secret membership of that group, was exposed in the documents leaked by disillusioned AfA members.
It came as no surprise to regular users of the CCIN pages, that the most insulting and abusive personal comments, came from the keyboards of those few AfA members.
The longevity and on-going success of CCIN, can be attributed to good management. It provides a venue which satisfies a community need, protects its most tentative and vulnerable contributors from confrontational interactions, and maintains a high standard of editorial integrity.
I only became involved with the CCIN page because my anger at what I perceived to be corruption in our council, meant that I needed a place to let off steam, politely. It had been my intention to withdraw from the group when the council elections were complete, but it seems that I may remain a committed and active member of its replacement forum when it emerges next year.
Once again, the contrast between the CCIN and AfA pages is astounding.
On a CCIN page, contributors are allowed to vigorously argue issues, and comments must be confined to issues, not to personalities. There are numerous occasions on which discussions may become a little heated, but a combination of the mutual respect which exists between most commentators, and firm management, ensures that instances of unacceptable conflict are very few, and very far between.
Contrast this with the management of the AfA page, and the behaviour of its most active contributors.
To the best of my knowledge there have been at least two people serving as administrators or moderators of AfA page content, Karen Lagalla and Brigit Mackenzie. Here is a sample of comments, made in relation to me, by the people allegedly responsible for the maintenance of appropriate behavioural standards among AfA members:
From Karen Lagalla – “Craig Budden he is a vicious objector to the CCS among other things.”
From Brigit Mackenzie – “This is my reply to him when he and his mates were having a go at me he didn’t reply cos guess what he is a coward . . . . ”
Karen Lagalla, again – “ . . . julian may is a fake profile. He is always incredibly rude and abusive to council workers and any supporter of the cultural and civic space. In the name of truth we seek to find his true identity. To my mind his are the objectionable actions . . .”
Another from Brigit Mackenzie, in response to AfA member Cath Fogarty, who posted “Brigit Mackenzie I’m still sceptical that’s his real name and his real photo” – “Cath Fogarty we will endeavour to find someone who can say that is him. Someone must know if he is real”
You can imagine my wife’s reaction when she discovered that I am not real. We’ve been together for almost 50 years, and now she has found out that I don’t actually exist.
She’s devastated that the person with whom she has shared a bed for decades, is nothing more than a phantom, perhaps even a figment of her imagination.
I hope that my kids, kids-in-law, and grandchildren, don’t ever find out that, like Santa, Pa isn’t real!
For the sale of clarity, I’d better dignify this shit with some rebuttal. Let’s take it from the top:
- I’d argue the use of the word “vicious”. I’d accept, “insightful”, “intelligent”, “thought-provoking”, and even “aggressive”.
- “ . . he didn’t reply cos guess what he is a coward . . .” – I replied to Ms Mackenzie on a number of occasions, but eventually gave up when I realised that the task of communicating with this individual was beyond my capabilities. Not cowardice, just common sense.
- “julian may is a fake profile. He is always incredibly rude and abusive to council workers . . .”.
I’ve done rather well, given that I don’t exist.
I managed to con my employers for 45 years, and I have fooled Federal and State governments for even longer. In 1969 I even entered the Feds’ lottery for an all-expenses paid trip to the Vietnam War. Fortunately, I didn’t get a spot.
I’ve got more than enough documents to reach the 100-point proof of identify a couple of times over.
I must confess, however, that it’s a bit disconcerting when I look in the mirror and see this grey-bearded and semi-bald old man looking back at me. I often don’t recognise him.
I confess that I’m inclined to treat stupidity with contempt, but I try to avoid rudeness, and, to the best of my recollection, I’ve only spoken ever to one council worker, a very pleasant and helpful lady at the council chambers, when my wife and I paid our rates instalment in person, more than a decade ago.
From her own statements, Ms Lagalla’s charter for her exclusive Facebook page, was to provide an opportunity for like-minded people to comment on, and propose, progressive ideas which would benefit the Coffs Harbour community, and to promote the development of Denise Knight’s project, the CCS.
Examination of the documents leaked by the AfA whistle-blowers, shows that little of this type of comment has been published.
It is interesting to interpret some data, gleaned from the leaked pages of the AfA Facebook forum, as we assess the extent to which the known administrators, actually pursued these goals.
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