On Friday 22 September, Honi reported that unsuccessful Students’ Representative Council (SRC) Presidential candidate Bella Pytka had been purged from her faction, Sydney Labor Students (SLS). Honi has since received additional information which suggests SLS members used screenshots of Pytka’s private Facebook conversations to blackmail her.
In a statement sent to Honi, SLS had alleged that Pytka, who served as the SRC’s general secretary this year, had been “planning for months to defect to Labor Right if she were elected as SRC president”.
According to SLS, Pytka had been communicating privately with members of the right “stating that she hates Labor Left and wants to leave”. Honi also received screenshots of conversations between Pytka and a member of Unity, in which Pytka expressed her dislike for people in her faction and desire to leave.
Honi now understands that Pytka’s Facebook account was found open by a senior USyd member of SLS, who then went through messages between Pytka and her partner, taking pictures of parts of the conversation where she expressed dissatisfaction with her faction.
Pytka told Honi, “one member of my former faction went onto my personal Facebook account, and went through my messages, in particular messages with my partner, who is a member of Student Unity.”
Gabe Long, a student who recently left SLS, told Honi, “at 6pm on the 21st of September, the caucus was told Bella had intended to defect from SLS to go to [Student] Unity. They were told that they’d gained screencaps of her conversations with her boyfriend. They were not told at caucus about how this happened.”
According to Long, a senior SLS member “admitted to a portion of the faction that she’d found [Pytka]’s Facebook logged onto [her] PC”.
After the messages were discovered, a meeting was held with Pytka, where SLS faction heads set out “conditions that [she] was to [adhere to], so this information wouldn’t become public”.
Pytka says she was made to delete “every Facebook message, and text message that I have ever had, with any member of SLS”.
Pytka alleges her Facebook post conceding defeat on the night of the election was not, in fact, written by her; instead, it was written jointly by senior members of SLS. Pytka said, “[the] public statement on my Facebook, as posted, … was not written by me, nor was I allowed any input into the creation of said status”.
According to Long, “Bella had been blackmailed for the rest of [Thursday] into taking a stand against [Student] Unity mainly via a Facebook post … She was also told not to go to the after party.”
It has been alleged that senior members of SLS put pressure on Pytka to stay in SLS publicly until the end of the year. “I was told that I was to remain publicly in the faction, until the end of the year, and then I was allowed to proceed to do whatever I chose,” Pytka said.
Despite Pytka’s compliance, the screenshots were made public and SLS made a statement to Honi; Caitlin McMenamin, who co-managed the Stand Up campaign, told Honi, “SLS decided to release the information after realising that an honest explanation was owed to the public as to why Bella was asked to leave.”
Long said, “As far as I can see, Bella has not been treated well by her faction … there was little factional support for Bella throughout the campaign especially when it became apparent we weren’t winning it.”
Following Pytka’s departure, at least six students have since also left the faction. One former member of SLS said, “Bella is one of many who are fed up with the poor behaviour of senior SLS members. It should be only obvious that any kind of ‘hacking into’ of private social media accounts or personal messages is completely unacceptable … the whole situation is indicative of a very problematic culture that exists within the senior leadership of SLS.”
Editor’s note: This is a rectification of an article published on Friday, which did not provide a full picture of the set of the events. We retract that article, and sincerely apologise for hurt or damage caused.