Melbourne, Australia, August 15, 2012… On Monday August 13th the Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI) sent Facebook a letter regarding a number of groups and pages on the Facebook platform whose sole purpose was the racial vilification of Indigenous Australians.
In the letter, OHPI thanked Facebook for removing a number of the pages promoting ‘Aboriginal Memes’ of a derogatory and racist nature. OHPI noted that while there were some delays in the process and some mixed messages from Facebook, the response in removing the offending pages was appropriate and was taken within a reasonable amount of time. OHPI noted in its letter that one additional page had been created, and Facebook’s response in that instance has been to block access to the page from Australia as a means of complying with Australian law. OHPI urged Facebook to take a moral rather than a legal stand, and to remove the material rather than continuing with a country specific block. Facebook later removed this page as well.
In writing to Facebook, OHPI noted the evolution in Facebook’s position regarding this content. Facebook initially called the content controversial and renamed the first page from “Aboriginal Memes” to “[Controversial Humour] Aboriginal Memes”. They told those who complained that the content may be offensive but did not breach Facebook’s terms of service. In the second phase of responses, that page as well as others were removed. In a third stage, a newer page trying to continue the promotion of this racist hate was not removed but rather blocked from within Australia. This is a very specific response Facebook adopts in order to comply with legal demands that unlawful material be removed from a particular country’s jurisdiction. As mentioned this last page was soon deleted as well.
In its letter, OHPI provided three examples of the racist memes and an explanation of the specific hateful message each portrayed. Details of additional breaches of the Facebook Community Standards by the owner of one of the hate pages were also shared with Facebook. This account was later suspended. The OHPI letter called on Facebook to take one final step and publicly make clear that hate speech in the form of Memes is a breach of the Facebook Community Standards and unacceptable. OHPI highlighted that such a statement from Facebook would help reinforce positive societal norms both online and in the real world.
You can download OHPI’s letter to Facebook regarding Aboriginal Memes.
Earlier today Facebook issued a reply:
We recognise the public concern that controversial meme Pages that Australians have created on Facebook have caused. Facebook does not share these views, but while incredibly distasteful, this content currently does not violate our terms.
Facebook is a service devoted to helping people share and making the world more open and connected. We believe that sharing information, and the openness that results, invites conversation, debate and greater understanding. At the same time, we recognise that some content that is shared may be controversial, offensive, or even illegal in some countries.
While we do not remove this type of content from the site entirely unless it violates our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, out of respect for local laws, we have restricted access to this content in Australia via Facebook. I note that this content is still available in Australia via other services including via a Google search and also via Memegenerator.
We today met with the Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner to discuss cyber-racism and industry responsibility on this issue. As with all of our engagements with the Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner recently, the meeting was constructive.
OHPI believe that Facebook was mistaken in its assessment that the Aboriginal Meme content was not a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. We have notified Facebook that a full report into this incident will be released in the coming weeks, and that we hope the report will encourage Facebook to reconsider their assessment of the content.
OHPI notes that Facebook’s “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” says at 3.7 “You will not post content that: is hate speech”. We find it very hard to understand how Facebook can look at this material and decide it is not hate speech. Ultimately, this is where Facebook is going wrong.
Finally, while Facebook is right to point out that the hate speech can be accessed in other ways, it is the added nature of Facebook as a social media platform that creates the real danger. The real danger is that unless Facebook puts a stop to it, the racist idea embedded in the “Aboriginal Memes” can, facilitated by the Facebook platform, go viral. Facebook plays a greater role in the spread of hate than other platforms, and consequently the company should take greater responsibility to prevent their technology being used as a means of hate proliferation. This is not an industry problem, this is Facebook’s problem.
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).
You can stay up-to-date with OHPI by liking our Facebook page.
UPDATE 19 August:
While it appeared the original Aboriginal meme page had been removed, Facebook has since informed the administrator that they are allowing it back and only blocking it in Australia:
This really isn’t good enough Facebook. The platform provider has now made itself complicit in the spread of hate speech.