The Online Hate Prevention Institute is an Australian charity dedicated to preventing the harm that can result from online hate. In addition to research, reports, law reform work, and engagement in public discussion through the media and events, we also run a large Facebook page.  We do our best to keep the hate off our own page and to provide a safe place for those opposing racism, bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, trolling, cyber-bullying, extremism and other forms of hate. One of the ways we do this is through our no-platform policy.

Why we have a “no platform” policy

Our policy is simple. If you post hate, you get banned. If on looking at your Facebook account we see that you are a supporter of hate groups, you get banned. If you are glorifying the Nazis on your page, you get banned. If your account appears to have been created in the last 5 minutes just to comment on our page, we assume you are probably already banned or a troll, and ban the new account as well.

This raises a question. Are we just silencing opposing views? One supporter wrote to us for clarification. He wrote:

“I’m sure you’ve heard of X [a hate page]. They also have a policy of deleting all comments and banning people with an opposing viewpoint. I sort of get the “no platform” rule but surely such censorship is no different to that imposed by the far-right? Obviously delete those who express outright hatred, but surely open debate can be positive?”

This is not just an online issue. No platform was originally created to counter fascist groups like the British National Party (BNP) in the UK. The BNP is described in the dictionary as a neo-Nazi group. Groups like this took a position of silencing those they disagreed with, often with violence.  The “no platform” policy was created by the National Union of Students in the UK because allowing the BNP to come onto a university campus created an environment where students from minority groups were not safe. Allowing such groups to pose as part of the mainstream views in society made it easier for hate to spread.

One of the reasons we have see rising racism, bigotry and extremism in society in the last few years is because social media has allowed these extreme views to appear as part of the mainstream. This has normalised hatred and bigotry first online, then allowed it to become more normalised in daily life. People with extreme views, who may not have acted on them when they were isolate, suddenly find people of like minds through social media and are emboldened. That can lead to hate crimes and incidents of extremism.

A “no platform policy” can also be applied online. Such a policy sees some views as so harmful and that the public interest in protecting people from the resulting harm, should those views be allow to be spread, is greater than the public interest in letting the speaker share their views at that time and in that place. Where you have a group / page like the OHPI page whose purpose is to provide a safe space for those impacted by online hate and wishing to work against it, the right of the core audience to engage in that space free from hate is the priority.

Whether a no platform policy is appropriate really depends on what the page is for. If the page was for a group that claims to promote freedom of speech, banning people who disagree would be betraying the pages purpose. If the page was for the purpose of encouraging debate, for example, if it was part of a conference whose purpose was to debate freedom of speech issues, a no platform policy would make little sense. If a page claims to be neutral on an issue, it should allow both sides to be presented.

In the case of the OHPI page, it isn’t there for debate about whether hate speech should be banned. Our position on this is clear; hate speech causes harm, our purpose is preventing that harm, therefore we believe hate speech should be prohibited on social media and removed when it occurs.  Our page isn’t the place for hate speech or debates on whether it should be allowed. We are a charity with a particular purpose and our page is focused on promoting our organisation and its purpose. If you disagree with our purpose, don’t visit our page. If you do visit our page in order to express your disagreement with our purpose, expect to be banned. The page clearly isn’t there for you.

There is another far more practical reason we ban people who are supporters of hate pages and try to engage us in debate on our page. Such debate is a serious drain on our resources. As a charity we are funded by your donations (if you support us and haven’t yet donate, please donate here). The donations people give us can be spent in much better ways than paying for more staff time both to engage in the debate and to more carefully and regularly monitor and moderate the resulting comments on our page. A small group of trolls can readily tie up significant resources of an organisation in social media. Large corporations can perhaps afford to respond to this, a small charity like ours can’t. At least not without it seriously impacting the rest of our work. Banning those who don’t support our work leaves us free to focus our efforts on supporting those who do support our work and who need our assistance.

How “no platform” works

Here is a post made to our page about an hour ago:

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The post makes a number of loaded comments and there is a strong temptation to reply. We could tackle them on the idea that our policy claims all hate is wrong, i.e. the “I hate rapists, so banning me would allow rapists to go unhated”. If we were to reply we would point out that an alleged rapist should be tried by the courts and not by a mob on social media. In fact, social media pages accusing someone of a serious crime can interfere with the justice system by damaging the courts ability to get an impartial jury. Once someone is convicted, disliking or hating a person for something they have been convicted of is fine.

We have said repeatedly that we have no issue with people opposing hate groups. We do this ourselves. Those who kill innocent people including women and children, like Daesh (ISIS), are deserving of hate. The problem is when the hate is directed not against the people engaging in these horrific acts, but against other innocent people who just happen to have something in common with those responsible: be it there nationality, their religion, their gender or any other characteristic.

We could have gone through that discussion (with yet another person), but first we take a look at their profile. Why do we do this? In this case it was their opening comment. They describe the people we are banning as “people opposed to imposing culture”, and this sounds very simpler to the anti-Muslim hate propaganda that Muslims are a “threat to our way of life”. This is the top of this person’s list of pages they like:

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With the exception of GetUp! it’s just a wall of hate pages, and that’s only the start of it. Do we really want to waste our time replying to someone like this? We aren’t going to change their mind and it will draining our resources far faster than they are coming in. So we ban them under our policy without replying.

Learn more about OHPI

At OHPI we deal with all forms of hate. We cover Racism, Antisemitism (hate against Jews), Anti-Muslim hate, Racism against Indigenous Australians, Hate directed against the ANZACs and military veterans, Serious Trolling, Cyberbullying (persistent and personal online attacks) and Griefing (including the creation of malicious content focusing on people who have died), Misogyny (aggression against women), and Homophobia (hate against people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual). We also tackle the use of social media by violent extremists, and we comment on Social Media Policies regarding companies’ responsibilities towards society, governments and the law. You can also read more about the impact of our research.

Take action

There are a number of ways you can support our work:

  1. Our work is paid for by donations from the public. You can make further work possible by setting up either a reoccurring monthly donation or a one off donation.
  2. Subscribing to our mailing lists allows us to update you once or twice a month on our activity
  3. You can also show your support by liking our Facebook page and following @onlinehate on Twitter
  4. You can also help by telling other people about us and our work when issues of online hate come up in conversation

Thank you for your support!

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