Melbourne, Australia, August 9, 2012… The Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI) congratulates Facebook user Jacinta O’Keefe, the Change.Org petition site and the Australian Human Rights Commission on yesterday’s removal of a Facebook hate page attacking Indigenous Australians. The online issue has been resolved; now Facebook needs to take action to ensure a real world response can follow.

The Facebook page “Aboriginal Memes” contained pictures of Aboriginal people superimposed with derogatory slogans based on negative stereo types. Created on June 4th, the Facebook page encouraged people to create and share messages denigrating Aboriginal people across the social networking website. The page grew slowly and had only reached 166 fans by the start of August. This past week, however, it went viral rising to 4,692 fans by about 5:30pm yesterday when the contents of the page vanished. By 7pm the entire page had been removed from the Facebook system.

Dr Andre Oboler, the CEO of OHPI, said that he was “pleased to find the material had been removed so quickly”, but went on to note that “this response came about largely as a result of public and media pressure, rather than as a result of Facebook’s recognition of the hateful nature of the material”. Dr Oboler praised both Jacinta O’Keefe, who created a petition on Change.Org to promote awareness of the issue, and the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Race Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Helen Szoke, who took to issue to the mainstream media and demanded prompt action from Facebook.

He explained that, “Facebook needs to learn to take on board expert advice. They clearly don’t have staff with the knowledge to understand and properly access discrimination against Indigenous Australians. That’s ok, so long as they listen when the Australian Human Rights Commission calls, and they strongly consider that expert advice. Better still, it should have been Facebook calling the Commissioner and asking for guidance when the issue first came to the company’s attention”.

Dr Oboler, who is an internationally recognised expert in online hate and has been tackling Facebook over racial discrimination issues for the past five years, added that: “sometimes an online solution is not enough; Facebook must play a role in facilitating off line responses”. He said that role would likely involve helping bodies like the Australian Human Rights Commission identify responsible parties so they could be engaged in discussion as part of the resolution process. “The creation of a page promoting collective sharing and creation of hateful content is qualitatively more serious and an individual item of racist content, it requires a stronger response,” he said.

Dr Oboler noted that, “last week, in response to an OHPI report, YouTube closed the account of a user who had uploaded 1710 videos in a single day, almost all of which were racist in nature. There too we called on the platform provider to release the IP address to an appropriate NGO or authority. Platform providers need to realise that online repercussions are not enough when it comes to more serious instances of racial vilification.” Dr Oboler noted that in this meme case on Facebook the Australian Human Rights Commission was clearly the right authority and Facebook must do more to constructively engage with them.

OHPI’s initial report on this incident can be seen at: ohpi.org.au/press-release-aboriginal-memes and a full report will follow in the coming weeks.

NOTES

The Online Hate Prevention Institute was established in January 2012 as a dedicated organisation to combat online hate and to reduce the emotional and physical harm that such hate can cause.

Dr Oboler is an internationally recognised expert in online hate and social media. He is CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute and co-chair of the Online Antisemitism working group of the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from Lancaster University (UK).