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Sophie, a 4th year education and Aboriginal studies teacher at the University of Sydney, was compiling a set of resources addressing racism of Aboriginal people. She wrote to us saying, “I really like your website and the ease of use it offers to students” and has a few questions the Online Hate Prevention Institute and our work tackling racism online against Indigenous Australians. We’re sharing this as it may be of interest to others.

Sophie: Do any of your current or past staff identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander?

OHPI has never had an indigenous staff member. We give particular importance to the issue of hate against Indigenous Australians as we believe that is a national responsibility both on the Australian Government and on civil society. Our early work on Aboriginal Memes was completed in consultation with the Aboriginal Medical Centre – Redfern (NSW). We later involved Luke Pearson (IndigenousX) as a speaker at the launch of our FightAgainstHate.com software. One of our volunteers and moderators on the Facebook page used to work for Reconciliation Australia and on Indigenous issues at one of the universities. Our work on racism against Indigenous Australians has been regularly presented through various Indigenous media platforms.

While we had 5 staff this time last year, due to a lack of funding we currently have no paid staff. We are looking to reduce our budget from just under $250,000 to $15,000. If we can’t find even the $15,000 we will need to close. If we do find it, we will be look for a more volunteer run approach as well as looking at a new board. We are particularly interested in having diversity on that board, including having some Indigenous representation, more women and ideally directors with an ability to help us raise funds so our work can continue.

Sophie: How has the issue of racism transformed since the introduction of the internet? 

Before the internet serious racists had to invest money in printing and stand on street corners handing out racist literature. With the advent of the internet, they were able to set up websites and reach a much broader audience. Still, you had to go looking for their content to see it. Then came search engines and “cloaked sites” were created; they would masqueraded as legitimate research sites while seeking to promote misinformation and racist propaganda. The introductions of forums allowed racists to gather together in communities; stormfront is the earliest and most well known. With the advent of web 2.0 (e.g. blogs) publishing became far easier and far more racists were able to setup sites and publish their views, often with no financial cost. Finally social media came along. In social media the hate would appear in front of you with out you searching for it. It would go viral as people shared it. Social media created Hate 2.0 which desensitized the public to racism and normalized it. This was in part based on the early ideas of the internet as the last bastion of freedom from government interference (an idea that also in the early days suggested copyright did not apply on the internet). In the social media space it continued as US based companies sought to impose their US values on the rest of the world, those values included seeing racism and hate speech as a protected kind of speech which should be fought with reasoned argument rather than censorship. Those views have started to change as countries, particularly in Europe, content with the result of rising racism, but there is still a long way to go.

Sophie: In relation to Aboriginal people, do you have any cultural specific approaches to addressing the racism that occurs? If yes, can you please explain?

We are sensitive to the issue of images of deceased Indigenous people. We have a poster related to the death of an Indigenous child and the rip trolling which then occurred. This material is not online. When we displayed it at a conference we ensured it was in a closed room, not in the public space and that a sign on the door to the room gave a warning of what was inside. We also consulted Reconciliation Australia for advice on our report into Aboriginal Memes and included a warning on the cover. We covered the part of an image we used on the cover which showed a deceased Indigenous man who was used in the memes (we did not cover it inside the report on the basis that it needed to be seen and the warning would prevent it being opened inadvertently). In terms of operations, we try to let certain Facebook groups related to Indigenous issues as well as Indigenous media know when we do work related to racism against Indigenous Australians.

Sophie: How have Aboriginal people been targeted online differently to other groups in Australia?

Each group is targeted with messages of hate against that group. Those messages are different for each group. In the case of Indigenous Australians there has been Rip Trolling, claims Indigenous Australians are all reliant on welfare, typical racist attacks on the intelligence of Indigenous Australians and the presentation of Indigenous Australians as dirty / drug abusers / drunks / etc. There have also been traditional racist attacks calling Indigenous Australians apes. High profile Indigenous Australians have been targeted. While the messages vary between groups, the nature of the attacks is very similar to what other groups face. One thing that is different is that the problem is localised to Australia. That means it doesn’t get fed by overseas events or the propaganda from overseas groups. As a result there is less racism against Indigenous Australians than other types of hate (there are simply less people who might produce it) and it tends to come in bursts then vanish to almost nothing. When one incident occurs and the media give it coverage, it tends to spark copycats who are also after media attention for their actions, but who hoping to remain anonymous.

As mentioned in the above Q & A (and discussed further here), continuing the work of the Online Hate Prevention Institute will depend on us being able to raise $15,000 to cover the costs we can’t avoid in keeping the organisation live. We are asking supporters to set up a regular donation of $10 a month to help us meet this cost. So far over $2,500 in donations and ongoing commitments for the year has been raised this month. Please join us in setting up a monthly tax deductible donation so this important work can continue. See more on our work against online racism targeting Indigenous Australians.

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