Coronavirus crisis: ‘Bring Cleo Home’ members lash out after Facebook page renamed to spruik anti-vax protests

Headshot of Miriam Fisher
Miriam FisherThe West Australian
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An anti-vaccine mandate protest.
Camera IconAn anti-vaccine mandate protest. Credit: ABC Perth / Facebook/ABC Perth / Facebook

Just when you thought the low couldn’t possibly get any lower, it appears capitalising on the plight endured by a little girl to gain clout isn’t beneath some.

Facebook page “Bring Cleo Home” has just undergone an abrupt name change, angering a substantial number of its thousands of members who joined the group with the best intentions - to help reunite the abducted four-year-old with her anguished mother.

The page - which had 3423 members at the time of writing - was yesterday changed to “Freedom Rally Australia” - an entirely different cause.

Freedom Rally Australia
Camera IconFreedom Rally Australia Credit: Facebook

According to the updated About section:

“Need a group at less risk of being deleted for historical purposes to share 1. Rally Photos, drones footage and video 2. Rally event details specifically,” it reads.

“Not sharing links and stats and jab info like on discussion groups that get taken down... so this is the back up.

“Yes this was an existing group repurposed, previous members are welcomed and encouraged to leave the group if the topic does not interest them, freedom of choice is a great thing.”

Made and Owned in Australia Support Group.
Camera IconMade and Owned in Australia Support Group. Credit: Facebook

A look over the history of the page shows this isn’t the first time the page has been renamed and repurposed for whatever cause the admin has jumped on the bandwagon to promote - at times vastly different and potentially conflicting causes at that.

Created on May 8, 2013, the page has undergone a number of changes.

Tracking back just as far as the start of 2020 alone, the group was named “Crisis Help Info Australia”.

Then - after COVID hit Australia - it was renamed “STAYTHEF..KHOMEAUSTRALIA” on March 23, 2020, suggesting people abide by government social distancing recommendations to help contain the outbreak.

Western Australian Preppers.
Camera IconWestern Australian Preppers. Credit: Facebook

On April 21 it became “Made and Owned in Australia Support Group”, which it held until August 18, 2021 when it was relaunched as “Western Australian Preppers”.

Two months later - and two days after Cleo Smith shock disappearance from her family tent at the Gascoyne’s Blowholes campsite - the page was renamed “Bring Cleo Home”, before its latest about-turn to “Freedom Rally Australia” to be used as a platform to spruik anti-vaccine mandate sentiment.

Despite the page’s About section disclaimer, members are understandably upset.

7News reporter Ben Downie labelled the Facebook page’s admin’s move “nakedly opportunistic”.

The “new” page has attracted increasingly scathing comments in social media circles, with many calling the name change “disgusting”, “low”, “catfishing” and a “scam”.

Others’ comments are too expletive-riddled to republish.

The page is one of many to have cropped up in response to government moves to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spread, in an attempt to generate increased numbers of protesters in rallies carried out across WA and the world.

The page’s admin, who wished to remain anonymous, said the group name was changed when Cleo went missing.

“Admin felt it could assist the family with an existing group as a platform with WA members so the name was changed,” the admin wrote.

“After that change a member advised Admin there was already an existing group for her so that group link was shared and pinned as an announcement and this one was paused ... essentially taking it offline so the existing group could be supported.”

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