Divisions in Hitchin’s online community after Black Lives Matter Facebook post
PUBLISHED: 16:38 05 June 2020 | UPDATED: 16:54 05 June 2020
Hitchin’s online community has been split over the Black Lives Matter protests that are sweeping the globe in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Influential Facebook group ‘We Are From Hitchin Hertfordshire’ – which has just under 20,000 members – came under criticism for allegedly removing posts and censoring references to Black Lives Matter protests.
Administrators of the group sparked an outcry after reportedly disabling comments on several posts which encouraged and pointed people to resources that support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Eden Stewart, who posted an educational message on race that was well received by the group on Tuesday, says she was upset when she found out comments had been turned off her post by a group admin.
She privately messaged a now former admin of the group asking why this had happened, and his response sent shockwaves through the online community.
In screenshots taken from their private chat, he said: “First up, we are a mostly white, middle class, right wing town and group. Hitchin is further left but still right of centre.
“Second, people don’t like being told they are wrong.
“If we let the political and campaign activity dominate the group, it will gradually get smaller and smaller, as people react to what they see as constant politics.”
Many reacted with horror after this exchange was shared across a number of Hitchin–based Facebook groups – and three of We Are From Hitchin Hertfordshire’s admins resigned in the wake of it.
Speaking after this, Eden said: “This issue is bigger than just a Facebook group, it’s the mentality of people all over the world and especially the mentality of the people in power.
“We need to educate ourselves on the history of black people and their struggle, in order to understand even slightly what they have been going through. Now more than ever we need to be more than just non-racist, we need to use our voice to be anti-racist.”
Another group member, Cara Baldwin, added: “Their argument was ‘we aren’t a campaigning platform’. However, a few weeks ago, the same admin was more than happy to support local LGBTQ+ campaigns.
“So why was this platform for positive conversation silenced when talking about race?”
Speaking on the events of Tuesday and Wednesday, the former ‘We Are Hitchin’ admin who replied to Eden said: “I deserved a kicking for writing what I did and it’s clear I will learn something from it.
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“It was possibly the stupidest sentence I have written in my life, and I would like to apologise for that. All of the other admins were shocked.
“What I was trying to say was that we have a big group of people here that you would not normally be able to reach – and if you push too far, people will leave. But I regret my response now, it was poorly phrased.
“Do I think I’m a racist? I’m inclined to say no, but I don’t think it’s a label you can assign to yourself. Only others can make that judgement.
“I have received messages telling me I’m racist, and I felt like a jerk. It has upset me and I felt angry because this story shouldn’t be about me, it should be about the man who was killed because of the colour of his skin.
“In the end, that group has now got a BAME member of the community as an admin and Black Lives Matter posts are popping up every day now, so perhaps some good has come of it all.”
We Are From Hitchin Hertfordshire was briefly archived on Wednesday after three admins resigned in quick succession – but it has since been reopened.
Chrissy Russell, one of We Are From Hitchin Hertfordshire’s longstanding admins, said: “The events that escalated on Tuesday/Wednesday in the aftermath of comments made by an individual left us with no option but to temporarily archive the group in order to investigate the matter.
“The comments were made by an admin but from their private account. Whilst we don’t condone the sentiment of the comments made, we also don’t believe they were done in malice.
“The individual stepped down as an admin and we were able to reinstate the group and deal with the issues at hand. All posts that had been temporarily hidden were put back up and a new team assembled to restore order to the group that is best loved for providing an outlet to our local people.”
But in protest, a new Facebook group called ‘We Are All from Hitchin, Hertfordshire’ has been launched with a new team of admins – and has already amassed more than 1,500 members.
New group admin Jackie Brown said it was clear that Hitchin “needed a new Facebook group,” adding: “We like diversity – that is what makes us unique and interesting, and I encourage that everyone has the right to a voice and to be heard.”
Fellow admin Alex Campkin said the team were “dismayed” at what happened in the We Are Hitchin Hertfordshire group, and pledged to make the new group as “diverse as possible”.
For more information on the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK, and how you can get involved, search @UKBLM on Twitter or Instagram.
Amnesty International UK has also shared a template for how you can write to your local MP demanding change.
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