There are a large number of voluntary aged care advocacy groups. Aged Care Crisis, Elder Care Watch, Aged Care Matters, Stop Elder Abuse, Angels for the Elderly, to name a few. Representatives of these voluntary groups spend hours upon hours talking with residents of aged care homes, recipients of in-home care, family members and staff.

The emergence of these voluntary advocacy groups raises an important question about the role of ‘consumer’ organisations funded by the federal government. Why are people seeking help from volunteers rather than COTA, National Seniors and OPAN?

The most common complaint about OPAN in Victoria is ‘the answering machine’. This financial year Elders Rights Advocacy received over $1.3 million from the National Aged Care Advocacy Program (NACAP) grant. Yet, when people phone Elders Rights Advocacy for advice/help, people say they are often greeted with an answering machine. Not surprisingly, these people go elsewhere for help.

Most voluntary aged care advocacy groups are extremely well intentioned. However, in recent years, some vigilante type aged care advocacy groups have emerged. Unlike Aged Care Crisis that rigorously contests claims made by governments and providers, these vigilante groups viciously attack individuals.

One of these vigilante groups operates under the name of Actioning Change for Aged Care. Some members of this group use Facebook in an attempt to destroy the reputations of people working in the aged care sector. In the beginning, they focused their attention primarily on providers. TriCare in Bundaberg was their first target. Next was Opal.

The most recent attack is focused on an aged care home in a small town in Queensland. Over the past 18 months, this vigilante group has conducted a relentless and vicious campaign against administration, staff and volunteers of Millmerran aged care home. With the use of out-dated records, they have raised multiple vexatious complaints with the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner. They have also posted hateful remarks about aged care workers and their family and made numerous threats. The reasons for this ongoing attack can be attributed to personal grudges and the fact the community dared to contradict their claims and fight back.

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This vigilante group bases its attacks on anecdotes not evidence. Members of this group claim naming and shaming is in the “public’s interest”, irrespective of whether there is any substance to their attacks. Fortunately journalism’s code of ethics requires an independent investigation of claims of neglect in an aged care home before such claims are reported.

A Facebook page demonstrates the ongoing atrocious, vulgar, bullying and harassing behaviour from those who claim to be aged care advocates. As you will see, their abuse is not limited to individual aged care providers. They also attack individual aged care workers and even volunteers.

This vigilante group also attack other aged care advocates. Stewart Johnston (Oakden whistle blower), Charli Maree Darragh Matterson (Angels for the Elderly), Maria Berry and me (Aged Care Matters) have all been victims of online abuse. There are others who prefer not to be named.

The Internet has enabled a small group of women to disrupt many people’s lives. Take Stewart Johnston for example. Since his mother was abused in Oakden, Stewart has worked tirelessly to help reform the aged care system. Yet members of this vigilante group attacked and ridiculed him (see below).

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I have also had the misfortune to read some abusive Facebook posts directed at Charli Maree Darragh Matterson. After Charli’s mother was murdered in an aged care home, these sadists chose to bully and intimidate her by posting repugnant images and hateful comments on Facebook. This ongoing abuse made Charli feel suicidal.

Unfortunately, Facebook turns a blind eye to trolls and bullies whose relentless abuse has caused suicides, depression and other mental health issues. By not adequately controlling trolling, Facebook is condoning sadists’ despicable behaviour.

I am the most recent victim of Internet abuse by a member of the Facebook group Actioning Change for Aged Care. Rather than call this person a troll, I call her “an abuser” because the abuse was sent via private messages.

Soon after I left Aged Care Matters’ Facebook group, the Internet abuse began: “Fancy telling people in Aged Care Matters Facebook group that you’re broke! You own your house and a beach shack. Yep, you’re struggling! That’s so offensive to people who are broke.”

The conventional wisdom of the Internet is to ignore abusive messages. However, I chose to engage with humour. “I can’t eat my house”. The abuser then replied: “Sell a house”.

The next message was directed at my approach to aged care advocacy: “People are sceptical and think you are captured because you have lunches with providers and peak bodies. You think [they] are decent people.“

The abuser continued: “Like every other advocate, your advocacy has not been affective.  Meetings with ministers, aged care providers and peak body groups have amounted to pretty much nothing. It was 4 Corners who where (sic) instrumental in forcing a Royal Commission, not you. No advocates are taken seriously. And as much as you talk and write, nothing has changed. So perhaps try a different tact (sic).”

I engaged: “Do you suggest I adopt your tactic and spew meaningless insulting Facebook posts?”

The abuser would not be silenced: “Not in a million years would I have lunch with people who have knowingly protected organisations that have neglected and abused the elderly for years. When are you having lunch with George Pell?”

I could not resist replying: “George Pell is a convicted paedophile. [The people you refer to] are not paedophiles. They are simply people with whom you disagree.”

I had clearly stated that people who work in industry are people with whom these abusers disagreed. Yet the abuser quickly shot back an absurd reply: “Misleading of you to suggest I think your mates [in industry] are paedophiles.”

The next message was equally nonsensical: “Pell knew about the abuse in the church and did nothing about it. Same as your mates have known about the abuse in aged care for years and have done what?”

At this point, I stop engaging. Instead I took a screen shot of the private messages and shared them on social media.

Then the threats began:  “You’re a complete and utter moll. Take that down at once or I will truly expose you for the person you are… I will be filing for an intervention order on Monday.”

I continued to use humour: “Monday is a public holiday. Best to do it on Tuesday.”

Calling me a moll and making threats (e.g. to call the police, apply for an intervention order or sue for defamation) are tactics frequently used by this group. These threats have no substance. A month later, I am still waiting for the intervention order!

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Most vicious messages are rants that can easily be ignored. However, some posts are deadly serious. The registered nurse in the group posted advice about how to commit murder undetected.

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The women in this small cabal claim to be whistle-blowers and aged care advocates. However, their Facebook posts show they are more interested in conducting campaigns of abuse than aged care reform. It is ironic that members of this group post memes denouncing those who bully. It is definitely a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

These women call for respect of older people in aged care homes while they demonstrate disrespect towards anyone who disagrees with them.  For example, a man who volunteers by taking Millmerran’s aged care residents on bus excursions questioned the claims made by these vigilantes. He then became the subject of their abuse. They ridiculed and bullied him, describing him as the “Old Bus Driver”.

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A recent petition collected over 300,000 signatures from people who are concerned about standards of care in aged care homes. Under normal circumstances, this petition would cause the government to sit up and take notice. However, its association with a toxic, abusive group of women seriously undermines the petition’s credibility.

It is clearly not only unscrupulous providers who need to leave the aged care sector. Immoral people who abuse and threaten on the Internet have no place in aged care advocacy.

This article was originally published in HelloCare anonymously. Due to ongoing threats and online abuse towards staff and volunteers of Millmerran aged care home, the article has been edited.

If anyone receives online abuse, take a screen shot and send to ScreenshotAdvocacy@hotmail.com

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