Online a possible cause of out of control behaviours - Presidentís comment

In this climate of seemingly increased aggression and hostility, perhaps it is time for us to calm down and reconsider our behaviour.
While social media has increased our connections to one another, the value of these connections is now being questioned.

What started out as a forum for shared experiences has quickly turned into a breeding ground for disparaging comments fired out by keyboard warriors, and has insidiously risen to a new level of harassment and assault.

A Mayor was attacked and ended up with a bleeding temple at a community meeting, while two councillors had decapitated rat carcasses placed on their doorsteps in an act of intimidation.

Local Government has always encouraged the community to have their say through healthy debate. While it is common to see arguments between people with different opinions, elected members should not be expected to deal with bullying, abuse or acts of violence.

After all, making defamatory remarks rarely results in a productive outcome.

Last year’s Local Government election campaigns were viewed as reaching a new low in personal attacks, with some elected members suffering continuous abuse from candidates and the community.

Unfortunately, some of the abuse persists. A lot of it is nasty, often it is inaccurate, occasionally it is actionable but it always seems to attract the like-minded, or the small-minded.

For example, my last column that defended councils against false claims of unjustified rate increases saw faceless users, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet, making baseless accusations and abusing the Association on social media.

This widespread descent into derogatory behaviour has rippled across the entire community.

The President of WA Council of State Schools Organisations pleaded for civilised behaviour from parents after irresponsible, sometimes defamatory social media comments led to infighting in Parents and Citizens groups.

A smear can stick, with potentially lasting damages on a reputation. How we deal with it as individuals and as a sector is a growing problem.

With increasing concerns around the impact of social media on Local Government operations, WALGA has released a template social media policy. It addresses social media use of staff and elected members as well as guidelines on social media behaviour.

An environment of respect and civility can only be achieved if everyone takes responsibility for our own actions. And let’s go one step further – call out unacceptable behaviour such as harassment or bullying as soon as you see it.