Calls to end toxic trolling

Roz Blades has called for candidates to show more respect for their opponents.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Observers are calling the Greater Dandenong election as the most toxic and dirtiest ever.

In recent weeks, candidates from all sides say they’re battered by persistent nasty attacks on social media from ‘trolls’ and anonymous ‘fake accounts’.

Greater Dandenong ex-mayor Roz Blades, whose helping several ALP candidates on the campaign, says “there’s a level of acrimony and lack of respect we’ve never seen in Greater Dandenong”.

“We need good quality representation. If we have this type of acrimony, we won’t get the right candidates – why would they stand with this?”

Ms Blades says a “doctored” copy of a letter had been letterbox-dropped in Keysborough Ward. She’ll report the “forgery” to Victoria Police and the Victorian Electoral Commission.

The original letter, written and signed by Ms Blades, was mailed in support of four ALP member candidates in Keysborough Ward.

“I am worried, that some of the candidates standing, do not have our community’s best interests at heart,” she wrote.

Ms Blades says the forgery seamlessly added at the end of that sentence the name of an ALP member candidate in another ward.

The forged words were in the “same font and type” as the rest of the letter, which was delivered to voters’ letterboxes, she said.

“That’s not ethical. It’s morally bankrupt. It’s beneath contempt.

“I’ve been elected 11 times (on council). I thought I’ve seen everything but now I’ve seen it all.”

Keysborough Ward incumbent councillor Tim Dark said the election had been “absolutely filthy”.

He and other candidates had copped a series of “vile comments”, “harassment” and “bullying”, which had led him to take respite to Facebook.

Responding to the abuse online only makes the perpetrators “go harder”, he says.

Keysborough Ward ALP-member candidate Sheree Samy said she’d been targeted by “attack dogs” on Facebook.

In one example, she’d been harrassed by a Facebook account alleging to be a “local” who’d been “talking to Martin around the corner”.

The poster was later found to be living in Adelaide, and claiming to be isolated by Covid.

“They’ve been consistently harassing me and trying to pull me down to their level.”

Keysborough South Ward ALP-member candidate Stephen Fanous recently sent a legal letter to a Facebook poster to remove material about him.

Generally, the social media barrage was a “bunch of hype for five or six people who are just trouble-makers in my opinion”.

“It’s only a handful of people who are trying to dramatize a really basic situation.

“I’m overwhelmed by the uplifting and positive phone calls and messages – that’s what I’m focused on.”

Departing councillor Peter Brown called it the “most savage election for Greater Dandenong and (former City of) Springvale I’ve seen”.

The social media exchanges were however largely “preaching to the converted”.

More than 75 per cent of the community weren’t visiting websites or social media for council election, Cr Brown said.

Cr Blades said candidates – without the permission to door-knock during Covid-19 – relied on social media more to get out their message.

She advised candidates under social media attack to “take the moral high ground”.

She urged them to “run your campaign as best you can, respect your opponent and respect your community”.