Victoria Police utilize hundreds of fake Facebook accounts to manage their expansive social media presence; their poor online security practices with these accounts have exposed their entire social media team.

Last week, a group of homelessness activists in Melbourne announced they would be holding a public forum to discuss “Melbourne’s rough sleeping ban”.

Shortly after posting this information to a public campaign Facebook page, organizers received a cryptic message from an individual claiming to be from Victoria Police:

This is Victoria Police. We’ve been informed of your protest action and want to let you know we’ll be monitoring this event with interest.

The message originated from a “Mark Darryl”, on an account with the URL slug markd.bayly. The account uses a Victoria Police shield as it’s profile picture, contains some generic police related content, and has approximately eighty friends.

The vast majority of these Facebook friends are fake accounts. They all have generic names, no content, one Facebook friend, and the same blank red Facebook profile photo.

Whoever operates the “Mark Daryl” Facebook account appears (at first glance) to have gone to the effort of registering 80+ fake Facebook profiles so that their fake Facebook profile could have some friends.

That said, not all of the accounts linked to this profile are fake. One of “Mark Darryl’s” Facebook friends is a “Mark Bayly”, URL slug mark.bayly.71.

A quick search for “Mark Bayly” reveals that:

Mark Bayly is the manager of online communications for Victoria Police.

Bayly’s hobbies include drumming, his band occasionally plays at Pause Bar in Balaclava, he’s a fan of Pink Floyd, his partner’s name is Margaret, and he has appallingly bad social media security practice for someone who manages the social media presence of a state police force.

It seems that Mark Bayly has received awards for his work in social media, the day to day tasks of which appear to include messaging activist groups to let them know that big brother is always watching:

But back to the fake accounts. Bayly didn’t just register these so that his fake account could have some friends, instead this appears to be the method by which Victoria Police manage their network of “Eyewatch” pages.

Rather than using any commercial solution, it appears that the Victoria Police social media team have registered hundreds of almost identical fake Facebook profiles in order to manage this plethora of different pages. There are presumably fake profiles for every officer who would ever need admin access to one of these Facebook pages.

It’s a clumsy practice but it makes some weird sense. Facebook pages are often subject to mass reporting, and Facebooks’s appalling automated moderation system routinely removes reported content and imposes bans on the admin account that posted the material.

To avoid this problem, most business would just employ a commercial solution (like Hootesuite). Instead, Victoria Police appear to have manually registered an army of paper accounts.

Unfortunately for them, the officers (presumably) using these these fake profiles have appallingly bad security habits. The account names are often similar (or identical to) the names of serving officers, and many of these profiles link back to their personal accounts. Simply by tracking the friends lists of these accounts it is possible to build an extensive map of Victoria Police’s social media presence and the officers who operate it.

The entire operation looks amateurish, but it just gets worse for Victoria Police. Operating fake profiles is a breach of Facebook’s terms of service, and every Facebook user has the ability to report a fake profile.

If sufficient reports are made, the operator of these fake accounts will have to prove to Facebook that the accounts are not fake, that they use real names and so on. Usually Facebook’s system demands a user upload photo ID. If you can’t do this, Facebook will lock your account.

A campaign of mass reporting could see Victoria Police progressively locked out of the accounts they use to manage their sprawling social media presence.

In December, the Andrews government announced that it would establish a “high tech monitoring hub” that would enable Victoria Police to engage in “real-time monitoring of social media”.

I wonder whether this “real time monitoring” system will include a subscription to Hootsuite, and whether it will be available before activists report every single one of these accounts.

Maybe the “manager of online communications for Victoria Police” shouldn’t have taken it upon himself to try and intimidate activists holding a public forum on homelessness.

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The Andrews Labor government has announced a $2 billion bid for the support of Victoria’s Police Association.

In a recent article on the so-called ‘Apex gang’, I noted that:

Victoria goes to the polls in two years, and both major political parties will once again engage in the traditional ‘law and order’ bidding war for the support of the Police Association and the Herald Sun.

The bidding war has now well and truly begun, and it comes complete with thousands of new police, extended police powers, and billions of dollars in spending.

The entire ‘Law and Order’ package is rotten. There is no crime wave, the new powers are not necessary, and the entire thing is rooted in racism.

The premise, pushed by the Herald Sun, the Liberal Party and the Police Association of Victoria, is that Melbourne is in the grips of an unprecedented crime wave.

Liberal opposition leader Matthew Guy has claimed that recent crime statistics are evidence of a “crime tsunami” and that he has “never felt more unsafe in my life”.

For over a year, Victoria’s tabloid newspaper and talkback radio stations have told us to fear a largely mythical ‘Apex gang’.

In reality the ‘Apex gang’ is part of a racist code used by the media to stigmatise young black men from migrant backgrounds. As Anthony Kelly (from the Flemington-Kensington Community Legal Centre) put it in recent comments to the ABC:

“The Apex gang is a convenient code word; essentially it means ethnic or African crime — it’s a code word that can be used by a greater number of commentators, like a dog whistle”

The other common dog whistle used by the media, police and commentators in Victoria is the ever threatening “youth crime”.

When the Police Association’s Rod Iddles bemoans “youth crime and the Apex gang and all that” he’s not talking about drunk middle class white kids punching each other after getting pissed at some city nightclub.

No, he’s latching onto a racist media beat-up that demonizes migrant kids from an African background, who we’re told will jack your car, invade your home and beat your white kiddies for want of something better to do on a Saturday night!

Media, police and political commentators on “youth crime” pin the blame for Victoria’s “crime wave” on kids from migrant backgrounds, in particular the Sudanese community and the Pacific Islander community.

Matthew Guy exemplified this with his call for legislation that would allow the government to immediately deport young offenders.

Unfortunately for Matthew Guy’s racist ambitions, the overwhelming majority of people committing the offenses the media has labeled a “crime wave” were born in Australia, and the crime statistics that purportedly prove the existence of this terrifying crime wave actually show nothing of the sort.

There has been an increase in the rate of reported criminal offenses in Victoria over the past year, largely as a result of the increased reporting of family violence offenses.

“Youth crime” over the same period has actually declined as:

crimes committed by people aged between 15 and 19 fell by 5 per cent, and there was a decrease of 4 per cent in crimes committed by people aged under 25.

Related, the ABS records a steady decline in youth crime across Australia since 2009-10.

But of course, it pays not to place too much trust in official crime statistics. Victorian crime statistics are obtained from the Victoria Police LEAP database. The more people the police arrest, the more “crime” Victoria records.

In reality, the number of people Victoria Police arrest for various offenses has as much to do with levels of police resources (more police means more offenses are “detected”), changing police priorities (expect a “spike in crime” among any population Victoria Police decide to target) as well as changes in which behaviors our society criminalizes.

The increased rate of family violence offers is an illustrative example. No one seriously expects that Victorian men became 10% more violent towards women in the past year. Male violence against women is appalling and commonplace, but the change in “levels” of family violence recorded by the police has as much to do with new processes that have been adopted in order to force police to take family violence seriously.

Media reportage on the so-called crime wave has highlighted increases in the number of ‘carjackings’ and ‘home invasions’ (recorded by police as thefts where the owners were present), and often links these to increases in the number of assaults recorded.

But again, this is hardly a crime wave. The Herald Sun might breathlessly report that there has been an 80% increase in carjackings, but they are still talking about an increase of 76 offenses in a city of four million people.

The media’s tendency to link this to increased reports of assaults is also deceptive. In the past two years societies’ attitude to assault has changed as the media has pushed narratives around “coward punches” and “one hit kills”.

A great many assaults that would once have been passed off as part of the standard risk involved in a night’s drinking are now reported and prosecuted. Many others are connected with increased police measures targeting domestic violence. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is hardly proof of a crime wave.

Melbourne is not in the grips of an “Apex crime wave” (as The Australian termed it in a recent racist beat up), but this hasn’t stopped the Andrews Labor government capitulating to the racist narrative pushed by the Police Association and the Murdoch press.

The government has announced “sweeping new measures” that promise to lock up more Victorian children and young people, longer. Due process will go out the window as new powers allow the police to forcefully obtain DNA samples from suspects without a warrant or court oversight. A two billion dollar spending spree will massively expand the police force, with thousands of new cops, a new helicopter and a bunch of new police stations.

The “Apex crime wave” may have been a myth, but the attacks on due process, the adoption of new authoritarian measures, and the growth of police power are very real. And they must be resisted.

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This Saturday’s Age contained a two page spread on “Melbourne’s Trump-land”, which is apparently located in Narre Warren North.

Instead of reviewing the economic and social situation in Narre Warren North, The Age’s Chris Johnston instead interviewed a handful of fringe right-wing figures, including Rise Up Australia’s Rosalie Crestani. The Age declared that Crestani and her fellow travelers were “disenchanted but not deplorable”. I beg to differ.

In 2012, Crestani contested Casey City Council elections on an anti-mosque platform. She won the second of two seats available in the Four Oaks Ward, despite coming fourth (with 8.09% of the primary vote) in a field of 22 candidates. She then joined Danny Nalliah’s Rise Up Australia Party (RUAP) and used her status as a Councillor to promote Rise Up’s peculiar brand of Islamophobic conspiracy theory mixed with a good dose of homophobia.

In 2014, Crestani moved to have Casey City Council ban diversity training, ban the display of materials that promote LBGTI equality, and ban the City of Casey from issuing media releases on LBGTI issues. Crestani and Rise Up Australia oppose same-sex marriage, the “normalisation of homosexuality” and “pro-homosexual propaganda”.

In Johnston’s article, a former Family First candidate claims that issues like “gay marriage … [are] a distraction from the things that really need to be done”. The mainstream political process is apparently obsessed with these ‘fringe issues’ that do not connect with the difficulties facing a community like Narre Warren North.

If anyone is obsessed with a ‘fringe issue’, then surely it is Rosalie Crestani and Rise Up Australia, with their outrageous and obsessive hate campaign directed at rolling back the rights won by LGBTI activists over the past fifty years.

Crestani is appalling when it comes to LBGTI issues, but it is in rank and borderline conspiracist Islamophobia that Crestani has made a name for herself.

In the past year Crestani has announced her support for a ban on Muslim immigration, stating she would oppose Muslim immigration “until there is a fail proof filter we have to stop all Muslims from coming in because we don’t know which ones are going to blow us up”.

Contrary to the racist conspiracy theories pedaled by the likes of Crestani, Muslim immigrants are highly unlikely to “blow us up”. Australian “terrorists” are overwhelming Australian born, tend to be comically incompetent, and despite widespread racism and anti-Muslim bigotry promoted by the likes of Crestani, there are precious few of them.

According to Crestani, on top of banning Muslim immigration, the most important issue facing “disenchanted” Narre Warren North is the threat posed by mosques! Over the past year, Crestani latched onto a racist Facebook led campaign to oppose the construction of a mosque on a vacant site in Narre Warren North.

The mosque’s development application was rejected by Casey City Council on planning grounds, but that didn’t stop Crestani announcing she would always oppose a Muslim place of worship in Narre Warren for “security reasons”. There are approximately 15,000 Muslims in the region covered by the Casey City Council, and a single nearby mosque that seats less than two hundred people.

Crestani routinely denounces mosques, halal certification and Muslim immigration. She claims that allowing a simple place of worship “risks radicalisation and terrorism”. I’ve always thought there was something darkly ironic about these claims, considering Crestani’s own links to the far-right.

Over the past eighteen months Rosalie Crestani has spoken at, endorsed, and even chaired a number of rallies called by violent far-right groups.

Crestani has chaired or spoken at the 18 July Reclaim/UPF rally at Parliament House, the June 26 True Blue Crew rally at Parliament, last year’s Cronulla riots celebration and the Reclaim Australia Rally in Melton.

Shortly before the Reclaim Australia Rally chaired by Crestani in Melton, police arrested a Reclaim Australia admin, Phillip Galea, on weapons charges. Galea has subsequently been arrested again on terrorism charges, and we’re awaiting Galea’s court date next month to learn which left wing target’s he allegedly intended to bomb.

Rosalie Crestani endorsed and promoted a violent far-right rally in Coburg earlier this year. The rally, called by the "True Blue Crew", intended to bust up a previously planned anti-racism event. At the time Blair Cottrell expressed his disappointment that Victoria Police stopped the rally "using force and violence" against their political opponents.

Rosalie Crestani endorsed and promoted a violent far-right rally in Coburg earlier this year. The rally, called by the “True Blue Crew”, intended to bust up a previously planned anti-racism rally. At the time Blair Cottrell expressed his disappointment that Victoria Police stopped the rally “using force and violence” against their political opponents.

If there was any gathering that could be said to pose a “risk of radicalisation and terrorism” in Melbourne, it is surely those far-right rallies addressed and chaired by Rosalie Crestani.

There are interesting and complex issues facing Narre Warren North, not least among them the Islamophobia and racism whipped up by the likes of Rosalie Crestani. But it is important not to overstate the depth of Crestani’s political reach in the Narre Warren community. Despite a massively increased profile in Narre Warren since 2012, Crestani only polled 17.17% of the vote in the 2016 Casey City Council elections. Her increased support is concerning, but claims she represents “Melbourne’s Trump-land” are grossly overstated.

There are plenty of people in the outer suburbs rightly disillusioned with main-stream politics. Unemployment is high (8.1% in the City of Casey), infrastructure is poorly planned and executed, services are taxed by underfunding and a growing population, and public transport is a joke.

But Rosalie Crestani and her fascist fellow travelers are not simply “disenchanted”. Crestani is an Islam obsessed homophobe whose Rise Up Australia Party seeking to build a reactionary political movement on explicitly racist lines. Crestani really is deplorable.
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The government, police and media are pursuing a racist campaign of vilification and persecution against kids from Sudanese migrant backgrounds.

The Herald Sun is today boasting that a Sudanese born “suspected member of the Apex gang” will be “forced to return to Africa next year”. The racists are crowing.

Who exactly are we deporting?

Issac Gatkuoth came to Australia as a nine-year old child refugee. He “endured a hellish, parentless upbringing in Sudan”1. He hasn’t seen his mother since he was five years old, his two brothers were killed when his village was “wiped out”, and he spent time as an unaccompanied child in a Kenyan refugee camp.

“Until recently he believed his father was living somewhere in Australia, but was devastated when he learned his dad died when he was just two”.2

Unsurprisingly, Issac suffers from PTSD, has recurring nightmares, and developed an ‘ice’ addiction. Issac “was on ice and had not slept for two weeks” when he committed a violent carjacking.

Issac was sentenced, imprisoned, and next year will complete the prison term that is meant to ‘repay his debt to society’. And then he will be deported to a country which he fled when he was five, where the people he knew are long dead, and which is stricken by ongoing civil war.

Issac denies being a member of the amorphous and ill-defined ‘Apex gang’, but because of the colour of his skin, and the racist beat-up surrounding anyone tarred with these two words, the right-wing media, the shock-jocks and Liberal MP Jason Wood are jubilant because this Australian youth faces deportation.

Issac is as Australian as I am3. He went to an Australian school, grew up in an Australian community, was marginalized by good old Australian racism and neglect, and took popular Australian drugs to blot out the pain.

Issac is as much one of ‘our’ kids as anyone. He needs support, not racism, vilification and deportation.

Aside: Compare and contrast the coverage, ABC 7.30, “Soldiers returning from war turn to drugs and crime – but are we letting them down?“.

What is this ‘Apex gang’ bullshit anyway?

When is a gang not a gang? The police, media and politicians report on Apex gang as if it were a structured criminal organisation engaged in systematic car-jackings, burglaries, and armed robberies. The truth is a little less impressive.

When the ‘Apex gang’ first burst across media front pages in March it was little more than an extended friendship group.

The Age reported earlier this year, the supposed gang “has no clubhouse, no colours and no real structure”. An ABC interview with a ‘gang member’ offered further details:

“I wouldn’t say it’s a really big thing, you know. The media always speculates and tries to make things sound big, bigger than they are. … (It’s) just a group of youths. … Everyone’s got to have friends, you know.”

A bunch of kids growing up in a Melbourne suburb with a “lack of school, no jobs, lack of employment” hang out with their friends and get into fights with other groups of kids. Sounds familiar:

Sharpies, or sharps, are the darlings of Australian gang fashion. They started out in the 1960s when groups of working-class teenagers in Melbourne, and to a lesser extent, Sydney, came together over cars, tattoos, fights, and “dressing sharp.”

In March, some kids were involved in a punch-on at Federation Square during the Moomba festival. Melbourne’s largest street gang, Victoria Police, responded with copious amounts of pepper spray.

If the kids involved hadn’t been black, and if their little spat hadn’t pissed all over a City of Melbourne tourism draw card, the fight might have gone unremarked.

Brawls involving a couple of dozen people are common enough in any suburb with the right combination of unemployment, alcohol and machismo:

VICTORIA Police say they are not investigating an all-in-brawl at a suburban Aussie rules football match despite reports a pregnant woman was assaulted.

When the police and media reported that a “gang war” had taken place in the city, the Apex gang exploded. As the ABC’s ‘Apex gang member’ pointed out back in March, “Some people just want a reputation”.

Notoriety is a hell of a currency, and when the media, police and political establishment started condemning the ‘Apex gang’, every disaffected kid in the outer suburbs had something infamous to scrawl on the wall.

It is little wonder that the apparent composition of the ‘gang’ has changed and the crimes associated with it are expanding. Hundreds of people from all manner of backgrounds are now using the words ‘Apex gang’ in Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs.

There is no ‘Apex gang’, but there is a hell of a brand, and who wants to let the truth get in the way of a good story? Both the police and media outlets profit by stoking racist hysteria around the ‘Apex gang’. The gang narrative sells papers, drives website clicks, and justifies police budgets.

Anyone interested in how the police and media can invent a ‘gang’ out of whole cloth should read up on Adelaide “Gang of 49“.

In 2007 SA Police announced they were “monitoring a group of 49 primarily Aboriginal offenders held responsible for hundreds of crimes”. The media dubbed it the “Gang of 49” and dozens of articles followed.

The Advertiser and local talk back radio reported on the crimes, members and supposed rituals of this terrifying gang menace. One expert compared it’s lack of structure to the ‘cells’ of a terrorist movement! Before long there were indigenous kids running around calling themselves the “Gang of 49”, where no such gang had existed before.

Victoria goes to the polls in two years, and both major political parties will once again engage in the traditional ‘law and order’ bidding war for the support of the Police Association and the Herald Sun.

You can bet that the Police Associaton will demand more officers and greater powers, and both major parties will announce ‘new measures’ to ‘combat gang crime’.

Aside: Whenever you see the words “police sources” in a Victorian publication, the journalist actually means “Police Association gossip”.

Police racism

Victoria Police cannot be taken seriously when they talk about the ‘Apex gang’, ‘gang crime’, or anything supposedly connected to the Sudanese community.

In 2014 three police were sacked and thirteen disciplined over the production of racist material at a Police station in Sunshine.

Racial profiling is common place:

Victorian Police LEAP data analysed by eminent statistician, Professor Ian Gordon from the Univeristy of Melbourne in Haile-Michael & Ors v Konstantinidis & Ors revealed that between 2006-2009, Africans in the Flemington and North Melbourne area were 2.5 times more likely to be stopped by police than other groups despite having a lower crime rate.

The practice of racial profiling extends beyond police “rank and file”. “Overt operational orders by Victoria Police have been known to target African youth” despite 2006 legislation that “makes it unlawful for a person to be treated differently from others on the basis of their race”.

Victoria has introduced a pilot “stop and search receipt” program, but it’s designed to avoid capturing any information about ‘race’ lest racism be detected. The Victoria Police Association resists even this most basic accountability measure.

Victoria Police, and in particular the Victoria Police Association, maintain very close relationships with the newspapers who might otherwise report on police misdeeds. The law-and-order campaigns of the Herald Sun (in particular) mirror the stated position of the Victoria Police Association, and crime reporting rarely deviates from the narrative pushed by Victoria Police’s media unit.

The confluence of interest between Melbourne’s largest tabloid newspaper and the Victoria Police Association deserves closer examination than I am able to provide in this post.

Concluding

Issac Gatkuoth is being sacrificed to the myth of the ‘Apex gang’, and racist narratives around “Sudanese crime”.

The vilification of the Sudanese community continues unchecked in the pages of tabloid newspapers, on talk back radio, at MPs’ press conferences, and in the actions of the Victoria Police.

The reality is that Melbourne’s outer suburbs register unemployment rates approaching 30%, alienated teenagers hang out in ‘gangs’, and kids who’ve experienced war and deprivation need love and support.

We must push back against the vilification of the Sudanese community, public rhetoric about the ‘Apex gang’, and the victimization of troubled kids like Issac Gatkuoth.

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