The Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI), the national harm prevention charity dedicated to online hate issues, today warned that proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act will have the effect of normalising Holocaust denial, racist Aboriginal memes and more in social media.
The charity’s CEO, Dr Andre Oboler, today highlighted the important role of the Racial Discrimination Act, and in particular Section 18C, in getting racist content removed from social media sites. He explained that, “major social media companies will remove content, or block Australian access to it, if it can be shown that the content is likely to be unlawful in Australia.” He added that getting to that stage often involved mediation by the Australian Human Rights Commission which was only possible because of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Last night the Online Hate Prevention Institute released a briefing paper exposing a new Holocaust denial page on Facebook. The page has been visible to Australians despite being unlawful under the existing Racial Discrimination Act. After OHPI’s report exculpated the matter, after lunch today the page temporarily went down (globally) as Facebook review it. Reports about the content have been rejected within mere seconds over the past few days and are still saying the page conforms to Facebook’s community standards. Facebook rejects the idea that Holocaust denial should be prohibited, saying instead that they “recognize people’s right to be factually wrong about historical events”.
“Without the protection of the law, in this case providing through the Racial Discrimination Act in its current form, there would be no way to ensure the values of the Australian community are reflected in social media platforms,” Dr Oboler explained. Dr Oboler warned that the proposed changes to the law would “dramatically reduce the scope of protection, which in turn means more of the harmful content would remain online.” Reflecting on point 4 of the law proposed by the Attorney-General, Dr Oboler described it as “unbelievably naive and clearly not written with the internet in mind”.
The proposed law, like the existing law, only applies to public communication. Point 4 of the new law, however, exempts “public discussion”. Dr Oboler explained that, “this has the effect of nullifying the rest of the law when it comes to online content. Under the proposal all forms of online racism, including the Holocaust denial shown in our new report, would become lawful.” He added that, “Social media platforms can, and do, filter content by country. Internet filters don’t work, but filtering by social media companies is an entirely different story, it is not only effective but necessary”.
With the power of social media behind it, antisemitism, Aboriginal Memes and other forms of racist hate speech will be able to go viral. “If the blocks put in place under the existing law are suddenly removed, we could see a tsunami of racism unleashed on the Australian public if the law is changed. The impact of this on the health of the community should not be underestimated. Cyber-racism can lead to suicide, self-harm and substance abuse. The Government should think about this a little more carefully before putting the health of the community at risk.”