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27 August 2021

Video transcript

Hello Brethren,

I want to speak with you all today, with a special message to the administrators, moderators and users of social media pages.

It is of considerable concern that we have many different pages on the Facebook social media platform: there are official pages such as Freemasons Victoria, the Almoner's page, and Freemasons Victoria Chat Page.

There are also a number of other unofficial sites such as Freemasons of Victoria, Square level and Plumb Rule, Young Masons on the Road, and Victorian Masons Uncensored, to name but a few.

Our Constitutions, our code of conduct, and our own obligations as Freemasons, impose certain standards of behaviour which we are bound to follow.

At the Quarterly Communication in June, the Grand Master gave examples of some of the unacceptable comments which have appeared on social media.

Some brethren were quite proud to have been quoted, and rather than modifying their behaviour, they have continued on their merry way.

Social media is not the forum in which to express criticism of anyone, hold the craft up to ridicule and generally to demonstrate that we pay lip service to our ideals and obligations.

Brethren do not appear to understand that nothing on social media is private. Nothing on social media is restricted to a select audience.

Even sites which purport to be private and only for Victorian Freemasons, allow resigned members, suspended members and Freemasons from anywhere to join.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but is it appropriate for Freemasons from other jurisdictions to comment on matters which are peculiar to Freemasons Victoria? Should any of us comment on the affairs of another jurisdiction?

Difficulties with social media are not confined to our jurisdiction. There are concerns regarding the online behaviour of members throughout the Masonic world. It has become a modern-day scourge.

No such problems were evident prior to the widespread use of social media.

It would appear now that everyone has an opinion. That's not a bad thing, but the manner of expressing such opinions leaves a great deal to be desired.

Moderators and Administrators must understand that they are responsible and accountable for what appears on pages controlled by them. They will be called to account in future if they allow contributors to transgress what are the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. At law, the Administrators and Moderators are just as accountable as the people making the worst comments. All leave themselves open to large financial costs in the form of defamation pay-outs.

There has been much debate of late about censorship. No opinions should ever be censored if they are presented courteously and in a manner in keeping with the standards expected of Freemasons.

Opinions and different views are healthy and to be encouraged. Opinions based on an ignorance of the facts or a failure to read or understand material which is readily available, lead to certain conclusions about the authors of those opinions.

Please Brethren, do not criticise or ridicule or query another for no reason. You fall short when it becomes obvious that you have not read something or didn't attend a forum or whatever.

We are a fraternity of men who have accepted certain obligations when we join. We are volunteers, and all volunteers who carry out work and accept a role on behalf of the organisation are entitled to the protection of a “healthy” workplace free of harassment and bullying.

Over the past 12-18 months, there have been many disparaging comments and naming and ridiculing of individuals who freely give of their time. This is totally unacceptable and regrettably, those comments have been made in a public forum in some cases open to all and sundry.

Many of those comments lend themselves to the making of formal complaints of unmasonic behaviour. Many of the authors could have been charged with masonic offences.

One individual, rather than be forced to answer charges of unmasonic conduct, was requested to instead meet with the Deputy Grand Master and myself about some of the comments he made on Facebook.

He accepted that some comments were simply not acceptable. He was counselled as to his use of social media in the future, and it was thought that he would have learnt from the exercise. On the contrary, he prides himself as somewhere who has a target on his back or one who might be suspended for his comments. You judge for yourselves.

Others have been subject to mediation in an endeavour to resolve differences. One would think that brethren would learn.

The fact of the matter is that all Brethren should desist from any derogatory comments or naming of individual members at all let alone make disparaging remarks about fellow Freemasons in public forums.

The simple rule of thumb should be – If you would not say something in open lodge, don't say it on social media.

You may feel free to express an opinion, to query something, to request an explanation and so forth in a polite and appropriate manner. If brethren followed such a practice, would there really be a need for an uncensored page?

If brethren behaved properly and respectfully, what should there be to hide? Nothing will be censored if it does not contain material which is in breach of our obligations or has the potential to incite widespread dissension. Opposing views should always be presented in a manner consistent with good masonic behaviour.

Brethren should be aware that there have been numerous awards of damages for defamation resulting from Facebook posts. Individuals are not immune from civil proceedings seeking damages and it is clear that a number of comments made on some sites could lead to litigation particularly posts which impinge on the professional reputation of people who are named.

Brethren. I urge all of our members to exercise discretion and caution, and to abstain from any comments which could lead to charges of unmasonic conduct and /or civil litigation.