It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but for one rural social media site, it has much more sinister undertones.
When the owner of the hugely popular Facebook group Who Got the Rain? discovered just after Christmas that another page had been started with the same name, she moved quickly to protect the interests of the community she had built.
“I was alerted that someone had been copying our messages and was putting them on this other site,” Winton grazier Donna Paynter said.
“Then we got reports of people asking for their pictures not to be used on that site and getting rude replies.
“I asked the person responsible for the page to change their name and they agreed, but they only added ‘Australia’, which is still confusing.”
The Australia tag has since been removed and the name is now the same again.
Donna said her main concern was for the people mistakenly joining the new page, which she said didn’t have the same quality control measures.
“We’ve had a good community for a long time, and now people are getting a bad experience,” she said.
One of those was Yaraka’s Anne-Maree Lloyd, who messaged Who Got the Rain? Australia when she discovered photos of hers on the page.
“I asked them not to share my photos without my permission, trying to be friendly and diplomatic,” she said.
“They replied to the effect that they would credit me but would use them regardless, and said I should be happy my work is being shared around.
“I have a problem with the way they’re going about this – it seems underhand somehow.
“And I don’t want to be associated with people who use foul language. I saw them abuse another person who objected to her photo being used.”
Susan Hetherington, a lecturer in online journalism at QUT in Brisbane, said taking a photo from a Facebook page was like taking it out of a personal photo album.
“People seem to think social media is a free-for-all but doing this is the same as stealing. The fact that this is a closed group suggests that even more.”
As far as using the same name as another group, Susan said if it hadn’t been copyrighted, it was an issue for the original group to take up with Facebook.
“If Facebook chooses not to act, all other recourse involves lawyers, and you will need to know who the people involved are and how to contact them,” she said.
The people operating the alternate page haven’t made their identity known to anyone, apart to claim they are drought-stricken graziers from Bourke in New South Wales.
On at least one occasion they have claimed that their page is run by the administrators of Who Got the Rain.
Donna said their introductory message mirrored the words on her original page almost word-for-word.
She began the Who Got the Rain page in November 2013 as a safe place for people to express their elation when Mother Nature remembered how to rain, quickly gathering a membership from around Australia, including many in urban centres.
“It’s all about supporting country people in drought times,” Donna said. “A lot of city people have been offering supportive comments, and it’s been helping a lot.”
A year ago the page had 7600 members. By this week the number had ballooned to over 18,000. Some 3000 of those joined since the 2015 post-Christmas rain event.
Administering a closed group of such magnitude is time-consuming, and includes checking every membership request to make sure it is genuine, and constantly being on the site to ensure it maintains its wholesome reputation.
By contrast, anyone can join the alternate group.
“Ours is a much safer environment,” Donna said.
Susan said it was understandable that Donna wanted to protect what was hers.
“As well as taking an identity and harming the reputation of the original page, it’s quite defamatory to use bad language on a site that looks like someone else’s,” Susan said. “That would definitely be an issue to take up with Facebook.”
Donna had no answer for why the alternate page had begun or what its intentions were, except to say she believed the name of her page had intentionally been used.
“Our group was getting a lot of media attention and they wanted to use that to get people to like their page,” she said.
According to Susan, it was hard to tell whether the owners of the copycat page were motivated by commercial interests, out of spite, or were doing it just because they could.
“There could be a potential commercial opportunity there,” she said. “They may want to get advertising, knowing that it’s a useful resource for people.
“Or it could be a badge of honour thing – ‘just because I can’ – there’s no logical reason sometimes.”
In order to assist people to protect their intellectual property, Donna and fellow administrators have been advising their members to continue to report the alternate page when they use material without asking.
“If possible, try not to go to the page,” she said. “Every time we click on it, it gets more page hits and reach, which feeds their ego and gives the page a bigger audience as it will start showing up on people's news feeds and will be seen by Facebook as being ‘popular’.”
Attempts by Fairfax Media to obtain a statement from the people responsible for Who Got the Rain? Australia were met with pointblank refusal to speak with the media.