By Mary Thurwachter
Two prominent Lantana citizens called for a halt in cyberbullying by a group of residents on a private Facebook page.
Kem Mason, a retired firefighter and Lantana’s Santa Claus for holiday events, and Dave Arm, president of the Chamber of Commerce and the owner of a local gym, took advantage of the public comments portion of the Jan. 25 Town Council meeting to air concerns about what Mason called “the venomous words of individuals who only seek to promote themselves and their own agenda.”
“There’s been some talk around town, ugly remarks that are being made,” Mason said from a prepared statement. “My name has finally come to the forefront so I’ve written these words. We need to bring back civility.”
The ugly remarks are coming from a private group on Facebook, Arm said. He described the group as being “closed off in their own little cocoon.” He said members have attacked the mayor, town manager, Town Council, the entire town staff, the Chamber of Commerce, Arm himself, his business and others.
People have the right to free speech, but there is a better way to go about airing criticism, Mason said.
“While we do have a First Amendment, we must each use restraint and respect when making statements that others will read,” Mason said. “This is also true within our own town, when people use corrosive words on websites to denigrate and manipulate the truth.”
He said if someone is going to express discontent, he or she should do it “in a form which is respectful and dignified.”
“Respect for one another, even when we disagree, is of the utmost importance within our society, otherwise chaos ensues,” Mason said. “While I am sure these words are falling on the deaf ears of those who feel justified in their ugly remarks and rumors, I ask those who read their words not to empower them by attending their website of abuse. We must use restraint when we voice our opinions and consider the consequences of our words. We must overcome the passion of our hearts with the reason of our minds.”
Although Mason did not name the Facebook group during his remarks, after the meeting he confirmed he was referring to Lantana Raw. The group describes itself as “a friendly neighborhood group for all past and present residents of Lantana and people who work in Lantana.”
Arm said when he and his wife moved to Lantana 15 years ago, they were impressed by how friendly everybody was. “Back then, Facebook was just a venue for Harvard students to get to know each other,” he said. “Obviously that’s changed. Now you’ve got a cancer on the town. They can yak all they want, but they’ve got this group that really believes this.”
Neither Mason nor Arm is a member of Lantana Raw but learned of the attacks after seeing printed copies of posts from the group that have been circulating around town.
Members of the Facebook group who are suspected of being disloyal, or of leaking information, are tossed out, former members of the group have said.
One major target of the attacks has been Mayor David Stewart, who is up for re-election in March. The mayor says he doesn’t belong to Facebook, but is aware of the rebukes aimed at him, courtesy of friends who share printed copies of posts. He declined to comment on the matter.