Voices of Reason In Shepley

The Website Editors want to thank the many residents in Shepley who have contacted us following our recent article about the Friends of Shepley Facebook Group. We greatly appreciate your support in trying to navigate through an emotionally-charged issue.

Facebook is in meltdown due to the way people have manipulated information to suit their own purposes and breached our privacy. Cambridge Analytica is the British Enron. Facebook was never a good place to have reasoned discussion or debate. It is easy to say and do anything on Facebook without someone somewhere taking umbrage, misinterpreting and assuming fiction rather than fact. Everyone can voice an opinion, even though there is often no substance behind it. People don't look people in the eye. They often hide behind the computer screen using different profiles to create all kinds of illusions. They cannot give you trust, accountability or leadership.

Most Facebook members use the platform sensibly. They know when to stand back, reflect, question motivation and fact before accepting whether something is actually true. Not doing so is a behaviour that manipulators can use in all kinds of ways. These include harvesting your personal information, which can lead to online fraud and other cyber crimes which leave you vulnerable, liable and out of pocket.

With PPI disappearing next year, lawyers are already looking at new markets to pursue claims where there is blame. What better market to move into than social media. Where people think they have the right to say and do as they please.

But, free speech is not an absolute right. Laws around defamation, incitement and criminality are bound to land you in court sooner or later if you troll or disrespect innocent users. Court orders, fines, compensation and prison can await anyone who thinks that the Internet is the lawless Wild West.

Like you, we were surprised to read parents and business owners making outrageous and unsubstantiated accusations about residents in the village. We agree with you. Why spend your hard-earned money in their businesses when their opinions can be so divisive. Not the smartest move then to get embroiled in a nasty social media exchange. Even teenagers today are smart about what they say and do on social media for a variety of reasons, including employment prospects. Perhaps some parents need to listen to them.

You can follow the psychological journey. Someone makes a comment which whips up all kinds of fervent opinion. Everyone gets caught up in the moment convinced that black is pink and pigs do fly. No-one, absolutely no-one has the common sense to step back and think. Until much later when reality hits home that people making accusations could be liable for what they've said. That there also may be another side to the story. By then, it's too late. Insults are done, people are offended. But, the real damage done is on the reputation of those who are whipped up in the moment without taking a reality check.

So be it. Welcome to the world of social media. The good, bad and the ugly contained in the human mind space laid bare for all to see. It's no coincidence that everyone's now talking more openly about mental health issues.

Reality check

We have sat on the fence for far too long watching and listening to the many allegations made on social media. We see the psychology behind the words and are not so easily fooled. We know, for example, that the village association is not the monster that some would have you think. It has no fantastic underground plot to discredit anyone, put barriers in the way of progress, or to discredit the work of other groups in the village. What mentality do people have that think like that? It's not normal. You may be surprised to learn that many of the loudest critics of the association have never even been to a meeting. They make ill-informed judgements based upon what others have said rather than finding out for themselves. Sheep syndrome.

The village association is not perfect. But, some will always question the egos and motivations of any person who sticks their head above the parapet in the local community. Unfortunately, that's what people have to do to make a difference these days. It's easy to try knock them down by creating all kinds of false rumours and suspicion.

That's feral thinking for you. Most sensible people will question again why people would want to act in this way. jealousy, rivalry, ego, a need to be liked, insecurity ... the list can go on.

There are some vocal characters in the village too. Many with strong opinions often expressed at village association meetings. But, those opinions are personal opinions. We know personal opinion is not village association dogma.

Most of us get it! We quietly question the motivations and reason through the issues. We stand with you and will challenge, on your behalf, anyone who uses social media for bullying others, making accusations, or disrespecting the hard work that other groups are doing in the community. We will take action, including legal action, if necessary. Because we can.

Local councillors

We recognise the value and contribution that our local councillors are also making to village discussions and debate. Whether you agree with their politics or not, they are decent people elected by villagers under our democratic system to do a job. If, as a community group you choose not to engage with the councillors, you cannot hold them personally responsible later when things go wrong. We are aware that our councillors have been accused of all sorts of things, including some serious allegations that were blatantly untrue. No-one was ever held to account. They should have been, in our humble opinion. Those accused chose not to take further action in order to avoid dividing the community further.

Online trolls even abused local MP Paula Sherriff during the last election. There is absolutely no room for mob rule and feral behaviour which attack all our personal rights when we're online. We firmly believe that the law needs to come down hard on people who abuse social media in this way. They've been given very powerful communications tools that they simply don't know how to handle properly.

Where a group claims to act on behalf of the village we will hold them accountable. You've asked us to do so. We agree with you that we want things doing properly across the village. We will always support the Friends of Shepley so long as they adopt good governance in their projects, just like every community group across the country. But, they've also got to treat people in the village with respect. The Friends need to take the whole community on the journey with them; face down critics with reasoned arguments and good governance - not bullying tactics. They also need to stop using false profiles on Facebook - including false admin profiles - which they use to incite and deceive the Shepley community.

What next?

We've had the fuss in the Examiner and Daily Mail over the council's removal of the swings. What now for the Friends of Shepley? Those who understand media and publicity know that the Friends have mishandled the papers in their push to force the Council to put back the swings. The danger now is that no-one will want to work with them at all.

Will that lead to more botched projects?

Thankfully, a ray of light. The Friends of Shepley appear to be listening to us. They are setting up a face-to-face meeting with local ward councillor Richard Smith. A recognition perhaps that, despite all the clever social media technology, people still need to sit down together and talk.

And do things by the book. Just like the rest of us have to.

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