This is a version of a post that appeared on Facebook yesterday (15th October), edited for syntax errors and to avoid defamation claims or committal proceedings for contempt, writes Neil Wilby.
The profile behind it describes ‘The Old Hammer‘ (TOH) as ‘a new news outlet for Oldham. Coming soon for the 2022 local elections’.
“First article will appear shortly: The premise being drafted involves Oldham’s [allegedly] far right political groups, Proud Of Oldham And Saddleworth (the POOS) and Failsworth Independent Party (the FIPs), and the Recusant Nine (R9) platforms.
“Following the murder MP, Sir David Amess, ‘The Old Hammer’ will explore online rhetoric towards elected councillors and MPs, which could be seen as inciteful hate speech.
“Raja Miah [the operator of the R9 platforms] is currently on police bail for such comments [he robustly denies any wrongdoing], but should his followers also face police action for what they regularly post?
“Should the administrators of the POOS and FIPs social media accounts be held responsible for content they fail to moderate?
“The article will include uncensored screenshots of sickening attacks on Jim McMahon MP, Angela Rayner MP, former Councillor, Sean Fielding, and current Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council Leader, Arooj Shah.
“The far right are currently, and desperately, courting the attention of Michael Gove MP and we intend to send a copy of the article to him to add some context as to the ‘Oldham Question’.
“There will be a slight delay in the release of the article in respect to the terrible murder of the MP. for Southend West.”
There are a number of points to draw from both the Facebook profile and its first meaningful post.
(i) The post is not drafted by a journalist – and TOH does not give, at first blush, the appearance of being a ‘news’ or ‘media outlet’.
(ii) The core content is highly speculative, notably by way of the bald assertion that all of the POOS, FIPs, and the R9 platforms are, by policy or actions, ‘far right’. That requires explanation and preferably strong evidence.
(iii) It is, however, true to say that key figures in all three have strong links to individuals identified as far right activists or supporters – and allow such people to post racist, thuggish and divisive abuse in their midst. Raja Miah, with his hateful, divisive online radicalisation programme, is the common denominator. The central theme is an alleged ‘cover up’ by Labour-controlled council, police and partner agencies in return for Asian block votes.
(iv) Its intentions are laudable in seeking to further highlight the toxicity of the political scene in Oldham and explore any potential behavioural links to the tragic events in Birstall in 2016 and Leigh-on-Sea this week. Jo Cox was killed for political and/or ideological reasons by a far-right activist. Counter terrorism detectives are, presently, treating the murder of Sir David as Islamist extremism and exploring the theory that the suspect was radicalised online. The Daily Mail reports today: “Thomas Mair (the murderer of Mrs Cox) was a product of what was loosely dubbed ‘far-right’ extremism. He had links to the National Front and the English Defence League (as do a number of POOS, FIPS and R9 supporters), and toured the internet, immersing himself in extremist far-right propaganda. Poison that still exists today. It can be seen in the fragmented but still active far-Right hate groups. It can be seen at the fringes of elements of the pro-Brexit movement (again a strong feature in Oldham)”.
(v) The point about the almost complete lack of meaningful moderation, on the three social media platforms mentioned, is highly valid and a major concern, attracting, as it already has, the attention of the regional and national media. The POOS pay lip service to controlling abusive posts, but, essentially, allow key Members and supporters free rein to abuse critics of their respective regimes or launch ad hominem attacks. There appears to be no moderation, whatsoever, on R9 or the FIPs run ‘Failsworth Matters‘. Described elsewhere as The Wild West of social media.
Mark Wilkinson and Kathleen Wilkinson are an Oldham councillor and Party Chairwoman of the FIPs, respectively. They are strongly associated with Raja Miah and support him financially, as does Kath’s daughter, Rachel Brotherton, a persistent and unpleasant Twitter critic of the author of this piece. It is very strongly argued elsewhere that Mark owes his presence in the council chamber to him.
(v) It is a curiosity that TOH points to abuse against Angela Rayner, of which there doesn’t appear to be a great deal, viewed through this lens, rather than Debbie Abrahams MP about which there has been rather more, over a longer period.
Will ‘The Old Hammer’ drive a nail into the coffin of the far right in Oldham? Will it unnerve Raja Miah and his rag-tag band of supporters? Will the operators of the fledgling news outlet themselves become targets of a hate campaign and a hunt to unmask them by Miah’s praetorian guard?
Let’s wait and see: The content and style of its first ‘news article’ will set the standard and, very largely, determine future audience perception, reach and penetration.
The wait is over. The head has flown off the The Old Hammer and it is no longer to be found on Facebook.
The key figure behind the media venture has deleted the fake account, “Barry Saveloy” that he was using to using to front it. The same person has extensive history for creating anonymous accounts on Twitter, making a flurry of posts and then disappearing.
He is not named here as he is a domestic violence survivor and, it seems, in need of urgent mental health attention. But it his hoped that both he and the prominent people supporting him, who should really know better, will learn their lesson: The toxic political scene in Oldham is becoming more and more dangerous. The firebombing of the Council Leader’s car outside her home, two months ago, is ample proof of that.
It is not a place for faint hearts or fooling around.
Page last updated at 1355hrs on Tuesday 19th October, 2021
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