Toxic attacks take toll on councillors

Holly ThompsonSound Telegraph
City of Rockingham councillors have raised concerns over social media posts.
Camera IconCity of Rockingham councillors have raised concerns over social media posts. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The Sunday Times, Daniel Wilkins

A toxic onslaught of social media attacks has allegedly divided Rockingham City Council, with the deputy mayor saying elected members face abuse, defamatory comments and threats.

At last week’s meeting, deputy mayor Deb Hamblin raised her concerns with fellow elected members.

Cr Hamblin said while social media was a great way for community members to have input, in the past six years misinformation and targeted posts were being used to divide and discredit council.

“Detrimental social media is dividing us and our capacity to work together for the good of the City,” she said.

Get in front of tomorrow's news for FREE

Journalism for the curious Australian across politics, business, culture and opinion.


Her concern was echoed by several councillors including Joy Stewart and Hayley Edwards.

But Cr Craig Buchanan said he had not witnessed the same level of diatribe online and said he wasn’t sure he was “watching the same social media you guys are”. Mayor Barry Sammels also seemed less concerned about the posts and suggested if it was bothering councillors, they should avoid reading it.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Cr Hamblin said she tried not to read them but residents sent the posts to her, often concerned about what was being said.

“(Council) members are called stupid and corrupt while others are intelligent and hard working, it’s very divisive,” she said.

“Threats, insinuating people are corrupt, negative comments about appearance, age and intelligence. The list of negative comments is endless and relentless.”

Cr Hamblin said social media could impact on the decisions of others to run for council or to contribute to debates.

“Councillors nominate because they want to make our city a better place. The democratic process will suffer if councillors are continually subjected to hateful attacks that will make people reconsider contributing,” she said.

“If you have an issue or a complaint, please voice them through appropriate channels. Social media abuse is not OK. We need to call out disrespectful behaviour and commentary.”

Another councillor, who did not wish to be named, said the personal attacks were “bold, frequent and increasing...successful in causing frustration and hurt” and they had sought legal advice on a defamation case to “try and stop the attacks”.

Local Government Minister John Carey said bullying was unacceptable, “no matter what form it takes.”

“It should always be called out. Social media has been a disrupting force across all of society and presented challenges in a variety ways,” he said.

“We don’t have to agree on every matter, but treating others with dignity and respect fosters a discourse that will always deliver better outcomes for the community.”

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails