An analysis of ‘debate’ on the CCS on local social media

I must preface my remarks by stating that the following comments are not conclusions drawn from any scientific study. The data gathering has been anecdotal and empirical, and the comments provided should not be relied upon as fact.

Further to that, I have no formal qualifications in psychology, my last academic studies in the field having been conducted half a century ago, and then only in a cursory fashion.

By Julian May

If you have the desire to study human behaviour, Facebook presents fertile ground. Behaviour and its links to personality types, have long held a fascination, both personal and professional, for me.

Facebook Psychology 101 [COMIC]

In an environment of anonymity, we will tend to find expressions of personality which we might not witness in public, especially in face-to-face interactions. Being able to hide behind alter egos, means that people can let it all hang out, and display their true, uninhibited behavioural tendencies.

Having been a Facebook user for a little while now, yesterday (17 December) I decided to dedicate a full day to research. In addition to Coffs Coast Independent News, I access several personal interest pages, so my data gathering has not been restricted to only one or two sites. It was exceptionally tiring, somewhat disturbing, but ultimately worthwhile, having confirmed the impressions which I gained through earlier observations.

My conclusions will surprise no-one, but here they are anyway:

  • On the Facebook pages which are of personal recreational interest to me, I find a large number of people who are interested in telling and hearing stories from like-minded individuals, asking topic-centred questions and providing answers to same. The group mood tends to be jovial and supportive, with light relief provided by smart-arse remarks, offered in good spirit. As a smart-arse myself, I enjoy these interactions. There is rarely a negative comment offered, and such comments are not welcomed.
  • Sampling “Coffs Coast Independent News”, (CCIN) I find that contributors and contributions are very much “middle-ground”. I should point out that my CCIN contact has been relatively short, a matter of months only, so my data collection has been limited. Most people are moderates who rely upon factual knowledge, and express rational opinion, as opinion, not pretending it to be fact. There are significant numbers of differing views expressed and discussed, with most interactions displaying respectful attitudes. As we would expect, a behavioural continuum exists.

At one extreme we have contributors who refrain, at all costs, from making negative comments about a post, and never resort to the use of personal criticism of a fellow contributor. At the other extreme we have contributors who take any opportunity to launch attacks which are personal, and often have little bearing upon an issue. Most contributors tend to gather towards the centre, a phenomenon which is not unexpected, and which is probably due in part to the nature of the personalities involved, and in part to the effective moderation of content.

  • Much of my time yesterday, was spent switching between CCIN and the Facebook page known as “Heart of Coffs” – clearly a misnomer, if the content is examined. The unintended comparison, which I could not help but make, between these two sites was stunning.

There was no need to do any statistical, numerical analysis, in order to identify the polarity which exists on this page. The “never the twain shall meet” nature of the content is clearly drawn. Three entities appear.

The smallest and apparently least powerful of these, is the HOC moderator. (More on that later).

The next largest, but by far the most aggressive and blusteringly intimidating, is the faction which supports the construction of the Coffs Harbour Mayor’s new council offices, with attached cultural spaces.

The third group primarily contains opponents of the second, and features a range of respondents from mild to wild. Very few of these people favour communication through the use of aggression and abuse, and even then, it tends to be in retaliation against “attacks” from the “proponent group”. However, the disparity in numbers between this group and the “pro” group is great. Questions and comments to the HOC co-ordinator, and largely moderate responses to comments, are features of the interactions here.

Back to the HOC moderator. I suspect this Facebook page was established by Coffs Council with the initial intention of using it as a propaganda tool, which might reach an audience of moderate contributors, who were seeking information. The cynic in me wonders whether it was intended that the site would be overwhelmed by ratbags.

Intended or otherwise, HOC has degenerated into a page marked by manic, irrational, aggressive, confronting and counterproductive behaviours. Many comments which appear here, would never see the light of day on CCIN and similar, responsible pages.

You have a fear of expressing hostility if... - What your Facebook activity  says about you - CBS News

Yesterday, in order to see how far some of the aggressors would go, I joined the “discussion”.  Using prior knowledge of the public behaviours of some of the individuals, I targeted one or two, and posted numerous inflammatory, as well as a few supportive, comments and responses.

It was all a bit of a fizzer, really. Schoolyard bullying, verbal tongue-poking, hands-on-hips displays of aggression, nothing much more of significance. However, behind all behaviour there is motivation, and the evidence provided by yesterday’s unwitting participants, provides some useful insights.

There are probably two chief protagonists in the “pros” camp. It’s hard to be sure, because of suspicions relating to identity appropriation and multiple identity use. However, even if we take the numbers at face value there were only about 7 active yesterday.

In one thread, “All Welcome: Coffs Harbour’s Cultural and Civic Space”, containing 140 comments, there were numerous comments and questions posted by known, and some unknown (to me), moderates, pros and opponents, all responded to in an appropriate way. Only one of the commentators was a known and very aggressive pro. The comment made by this individual was banal, to say the least.

In a second thread, “Demolition is officially complete!”, the mood, and the behaviours generated, featured aggression and puerile attempts at intimidation. In this post, the excrement really hit the wind-producing device. 246 comments were generated.

Of those I identified the writings of perhaps 7 pros, if two of the writers are actually different people, and not the same person using a partner’s identity. I counted, roughly, the number of comments attributable to these individuals and divided them into three categories – Mild, Forceful and Extreme.

In the Mild category were 2, each making one contribution. 2 fitted into the Forceful category, making 2 and 4 contributions respectively, and 3 writers found a place in the Extreme category making 5, 9 and 13 comments.

I’ll probably stuff up the maths, but here’s what I think the stats may tend to show:

  • About 36 of the 246 comments were made by “pros” – approximately 15% in all.
  • Therefore, about 85% of comments on the council’s Facebook page, were made by opponents of the Glass Palace. Few of these comments contained negativity (a number of those, as mentioned above, were mine) and the level of negativity evident was relatively mild.
  • Roughly 27 of the pros comments contained insult and verbal abuse – approximately 75% of the total number of pro comments. None of the negative comments was any more significant than those heard in the average primary school playground, and each lacked any semblance of sophistication. Imagine, if you will, two seagulls fighting over a cold chip.

So, what does this data gathering exercise tell us about HOC’s page, and its moderator?

Here are some of the possible conclusions which I have drawn:

  • Council’s attempt at propaganda may have backfired, seriously, with more opposition input than supportive input, appearing on the page.
  • Council may be happy to allow the slanging match to continue, believing that any pro content is better than none.
  • Council’s page has been hijacked by a manic lobby group of about 4 individuals, who prefer to verbally attack and abuse opponents, due to the fact that a) they have no cogent arguments to present; b) they lack the necessary skills to present an argument, without recourse to negative behaviours; c) they enjoy the conflict which they create, given the fact that they achieve attention-seeking goals in doing so – commonly known as “shit-stirring”. (CCO Editor – also known as ‘trolling’ too).
  • Council’s moderator has totally lost control of the Facebook page, and doesn’t know where to go from here.
  • In keeping with its apparent predilection for taking action without allowing for unforeseen outcomes, council has created a monster.

Given the (somewhat sketchy) evidence provided above, what can we suggest about the behaviours and personality types represented on Facebook pages? Try these thoughts on for size:

  • Social media provide legitimate outlets for a huge number of people who might otherwise feel the negative impacts of social isolation.
  • There are some really sick bastards – trolls, tragics, extremists, paedophiles, who use social media, including Facebook, for anti-social activities which range in severity from insignificant to life-threatening.
  • Two of Coffs Harbour’s Facebook pages are located, by the nature of their users, at opposite ends of a spectrum. CCIN seems to cater to the needs of people who wish to communicate rationally, and in a positive manner, about important local issues. This does not prevent incursions into the space, by individuals who have nothing of value to contribute to debate. Those same individuals have infested the Facebook page of Coffs Harbour Council’s “New Administrative Offices, with Attached Cultural Spaces” (Heart Of Coffs). As a result, HOC now seems to exist solely to satisfy the needs of these characters to bang their drums, puff out their chests, and scream abuse at anyone who holds an opposing view.
  • Many users find support for their views in CCIN, and like pages. Debates may vary from light-hearted to deadly serious, but there exists a sense of companionship, and an appreciation of the need for fair play. Those who are incapable of maintaining appropriate standards of behaviour are invited to cease contributing. This is an approach which should be applied in the HOC setting.
  • “Keyboard tragics”, such as those few who have reduced the HOC page to a drivelling, irrelevant mess, are all motivated by issues chosen from a particular set. Included within this set are – a sense of worthlessness, a sense of impotence, a sense of hopelessness, a sense of futility, a feeling of personal insignificance, feelings of personal inferiority, and significant anger and frustration generated by the foregoing issues.
Grow a backbone and stop being a keyboard warrior... | Enemies quotes,  Quotes, Sayings

Such individuals express their angst, whilst hiding behind the safety of a computer screen or telephone. Some will attempt to fabricate support, in the form of alter egos, hoping to extend their small power base, and thereby become “more relevant”. Some will adhere to the belief that by saying something very loudly, and very often, it will become true – a tactic used to great effect by Trump. The more extreme will resort to personal, physical confrontation in public, a tactic commonly used by Trump supporters.

Regardless of motivation, the salient issue here, is that these people, in one way or another, are damaged.

They need, but do not necessarily deserve, sympathy and support.

16 thoughts on “An analysis of ‘debate’ on the CCS on local social media

  1. Well Julian mate you’ve reached a new level
    BTW why don’t you have a pic of yourself or have a fB page so we can read about you. The people you are castigating all do, not afraid to say who they are and what they look like. Cheers Col

    Editor: Julian has both a Facebook page and a Web page too. You can’t comment on Facebook without a Facebook page actually. Yet Julian has been doing so for a while. See: And also here with a photo; Perhaps you need to improve your research skills Colin?

    1. As a self-confessed I.T. dummy, I even had to have someone else start my Facebook page for me. I’ve never put a picture on there, partly because I didn’t think it was necessary, and partly because I don’t know how.

  2. Nothing against whoever maintains the Heart of Coffs site but so many responses really sound like they are scripted and often don’t even answer the question asked. Opponents of the Glasshouse do get frustrated as they have little avenue to discuss their concerns.
    In the time I have been involved in actively protesting the Gordon Street project, I have never know the General Manager, the Mayor or the supporting councilors (except Sally Townley) reach out and discuss with the residents the details of this project in any reliable depth. Pleas to Ms Hancock Minister of Local Government and Rob Stokes, Minister for Planning, fall on death ears. Gurmesh Singh our local State representative has been vocal but it has done little to get State Government to intervene.
    The only probably real benefit of this reign of “dictatorship” but an unbalanced Council is that more and more residents including myself have come to realise that we just can’t let Council just manage our LGA – we the residents and taxpayers need to be monitoring their actions and be vocal of our opinions and demand democratic and quality governance with “real” community consultation and participation.
    We also need to be vigilant who and how we vote in the election in September 2021.

    1. Carmel, I was thinking this morning, that the emphasis in the campaign to bring down Knight’s Palace may need to shift somewhat in the new year. Any further pleas for support from Sally Townley will be wasted, and there’s no way that Knight, Cecato or Adendorff are going to change their (or is it “her”?) position. Sometime in February I’m going to write to News of The Area’s letters page, asking ratepayers to start thinking about their candidates for “unelection”. It’s unlikely that anyone will have put up their hands for election, so early in the piece, but it might help if people start to think about removing the major obstructions to democracy which take up space in the current council.
      From there on, it would be helpful to have additional support from contributors who can use the letters pages to explain the voting system and its pitfalls to people like me, so that the accidental election of people like Adendorff can be avoided. Perhaps The Advocate, often a part of Knight’s PR machine, might print letters on the topic, as long as they don’t come from me.
      For my part, I’ll be advising people to look for genuinely independent candidates, not those who have thinly disguised political party affiliations, to avoid voting for any “groups”, and to directly question, by letter or email or social media, potential candidates to find out exactly what they stand for.

      Editor – CCO will be publishing articles on the NSW LGA voting system and the pros and cons of it, encouraging candidates to run and also publishing a basic manifesto that, if candidates support it, we will then support them – all from about April/May onwards. We hope to liaise with other media, both social and mainstream to coordinate all this so as to spread the message as widely as possible.

      1. This is all terrific. Awesome, and interesting!

        One aspect that’s important to include in considerations and efforts is that of Name Recognition. Forget policies, forget issues, issue histories, prior community involvement, personal and professional reputation, promises declared, intent, intellect, passion, connections and all the rest of the elements that are considered in ticking a box on ballot paper, forget them all, but one. None matters more than this one. It’s because people don’t always study or consider the candidature on offer, and when they do, they do so to varying degrees. So if a candidate gets his or her name all over telegraph poles, touring car, media, radio .. if that person floods the electorate – no matter what they do or say, good or bad, even if they’re a shocker of a candidate – a large enough section of the community will not ascribe deeds and issues and promises or any of those things accurately if at all to that person then as their eye runs down the paper they see a name, realise they’ve heard of that name, tick the box for that reason, then that alone is sufficient to get a candidate elected. Duds get elected this way, but many councillors in local government begin their elected careers simply because they spoke loudly and long and often and got in peoples’ faces.

        Name Recognition is the singlemost determining factor in someone getting elected at the local level.

        Thus, using as example a beloved councillor whose golden heart and deep spiritual community connections make him far too wonderful and charming to get re-elected, Michael “Landslide” Adendorff … if a campaign were run carefully detailing how to vote out this beautiful councillor, and his name is used in that campaign, the real risk is the campaign would backfire and he’d get re-elected.

        [Hello Prairie Rose! It’s good, by the way, on many levels: one being that a landslide gives development a bad name: wondrously apt].

        Therefore a massive “Vote out Adendorff” campaign could end up in a literal landslide. Same with any others that we need to be rid of, even if it’s just to reboot the whole thing.

        May utmost caution and care be taken in this regard, please?

          1. So what’s the problem Colin? Are some of the words Julian and 40cm use too big for you? More than two syllables are they?

            Obviously big multi-syllable words along with intense conceptual thinking eruditely presented are beyond you. As I suspect are words such as marmalade and wheelbarrow. Far too many syllables in them.

            Better to just stick to meaningless one line drivel huh? Far more your style?

            What did you study at UNSW as per your Facebook profile? Marbles? Pick up sticks? It certainly appears analytical thinking, no doubt taught, has dimmed in your memory somewhat?

            You’d be better to stick with Snapchat or Tik Tok. More your style I suspect.

            But be aware the youngsters on those forums are razor sharp.

          2. Terribly overblown, Colin. Ever shot full of assumptions, and guilty in larger measure of what I criticise others for. Best wishes!

      2. P.S. On reflection that sounded like a suggestion to not use an existing candidate’s name in any campaign, which of course is impractical. It’s given as a strong note of caution please. Maybe what is needed is a very clear instruction on how to vote out a councillor, and at every step include a mention of the trap of Name Recognition so as for a reader to not inadvertently fall into it. Thus, the intended councillor’s name is associated incontrovertibly with that trap, as well as with the see-ya-later instructions.

        1. Absolutely agree, PedestalFan.
          As you point out, the dangers of Name Recognition are real. I’m sure that many of Trump’s less-enlightened voters were swayed by his extremely effective publicity machine. With the amount of money at his disposal, Trump could afford to use the “any publicity is good publicity” strategy.
          This is also a problem where our own political parties are concerned. Labor and LNP members who are candidates for council, will have serious funding available to them, and will have the advantage of being able to pay for publicity, an advantage not necessarily available to other candidates.
          My suggestion would be to first ask voters to look closely at the names of the current councillors, without mentioning those names, and identify those who have brought us to this tragic place, and then to refrain from having anything to do with voting for those people, or for anyone associated with those people, or for any”ticket” at all, regardless of whose names appear on that ticket.
          Then I would ask each voter to deliberately identify and list candidates who seem to be independent, and then to research those candidates by referring to media publicity, but also by making personal contact, by email for instance, asking questions which are relevant to the concerns of that voter.
          I would also stress the need for voters to have made up their minds before going to vote, and to avoid the use of “How to Vote” cards distributed at polling booths on the day.
          Then I’d cross my fingers, and hope to hell that the Coffs Harbour electorate is as intelligent and aware, as I believe it can be.

  3. The upcoming election will be a veritable minefield, with, I suspect, copious amounts of misinformation about the efficacy of having a glass edifice in Gordon Street.

    I have noticed that the issue has gone off the boil somewhat and that I am still coming across people (admittedly people who are only casual acquaintances) who have no knowledge about what has been going on during this shameful council tenure.

    Now that the Advocate has gone underground onto the internet and costing $28 per month to find any information, the general public has lost the means of information they have had for many years and I think any interest that they previously had has gone with it.

    I have never really been an activist but my activism came to light during that memorable meeting in the Showground forever ago. Even though some to whom I have since spoken think we have lost, I tell them that we are only just getting started.

    We haven’t fought as hard as we have with letter-writing and submissions to just give up and go have a cup of coffee. We need a concerted effort to slow these councillors down in their tracks and make them realise once and for all that their time in council is quickly coming to an end.

    Roll on September, and may the rain continue to make the new building unviable before the election.

  4. Hmmm..I attended numerous meetings beginning three years ago Carmel, and everyone present at the well publicised meetings was encouraged to give an opinion, many different architectural models were presented, the fairly standard practice of including council offices in public buildings explained and it was evident that much research had been done to lay the groundwork for the infrastructure. The minister for planning when appealed to, could not fault the preparation. Reading some of the opposition’s views on the CCS one might think that the architecture, design, costings etc had been done by individual council members rather than professionals working independently in their appropriate fields. Opinion does not equate with knowledge unless a person’s name is Donald trump.

    1. Margaret, all of these reasons are good and fair and highlight a significant problem with local governments putting together big – read ‘expensive’ – projects. No one would disagree that an immense amount of money was spent engaging in professional advice and consultation in producing this particular building. The sums, instead, would be quite alarming. Certainly no one I know is contending that the council members themselves put this together on their, or his, or her, own.

      There seems to be endless firms around that rip big contracts from governments. Each is highly professional and each commands respect in presenting what they do. (I know personally one professional firm that every few years pulled enormous sums re-doing the same thing, and another, a well known former CEO and GM of some of Australia’s most significant bodies who was handed 10K a week for half a day’s actual work a week, who described the payment he received for what he did as “obsccene”.) These firms present incredibly well, and very persuasively.

      And that’s exactly how bad ideas get built.

      A couple of things only that might be worth adding. This whole notion of ‘culture’ being tied to ‘government’ is a relic of an almost colonial past. It’s well and truly superceded in the modern, global environment. It’s also, of course, an easy sell. These days, equating council offices with cultural spaces merely shows a lack of sophistication and, in the worst case, an attempt to harness the emotional, intellectual and spiritual powers of culture by a group of people desperate to give their own personages a public lift. In any case, valuable culture far outreaches government and a sophisticated, beneficial government recognises this – in fact, celebrating and enhancing cultural activities and value by removing themselves the heck away from it.

      The next point goes to an understanding of culture, or lack of. Lots has been examined here on CCO about this, suffice to say just now that not one councillor or, as far as I can tell, in the executive, has any history or involvement in any cultural activity whatsoever. Frankly, none has a clue. As often said here, that’s understandable as Australia has long been a cultural outpost, when using ‘culture’ in terms of Western settlement, and is as a country undeveloped culturally. This has led locally to a community getting an art gallery, library and museum — which are the. Absolute. Basics. And done so as though it’s a massive achievement! A hamlet of two and a half thousand people achieves this on their own. Added to that is that this community already had the. Absolute. Basics. Thus, the cost of a bit more wall space in the gallery, the library being bigger with special areas for kids, and a museum (that is a pretty wobbly proposition in this current council’s understanding), which represents what the community gets back after demolishing these same things is a sum that would make a billionaire blush.

      Lastly, and quickly, to anyone who has been involved in design, this one is an embarrassment. I’m not talking about the exterior here, and without going into parking and other detrimental elements, the simple promotional characteristics and so-called features the council and architect themselves put out, with trumpets, is almost incomprehensibly a failure. Do you really think that high walls, a curved reception desk, bent staircase, ridiculous upstairs meeting area is really all that? It is an unbelievably naive and unsophisticated design. People will look twice, go three times and that’s it — any of these trumpeted wondrous inclusions and features will be ho hum within six weeks.

      What really, really hurts about this issue is the loss of what it could be!

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