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Senator Nova Peris OAM is an Indigenous Australian, a Senator for the Norther Territory in the Australian Parliament and an Olympic gold medalist. We’re hoping we listed that in the order she would consider most important. It is worth noting she was also the first Indigenous Australian woman to win an Olympic gold medal. A few days ago she announced she was retiring from politics. This put her in the news cycle and has attracted some rather vile abuse.

An account we’ll call “C” wrote:

Nova fuck off. You were only endorsed by Juliar because you were a black cunt. Go back to the bush and suck on witchity grubs and yams. Stop painting your fucking face with white shit in parliament. Other than being a runner you are nothing.

Senator Peris’s response was excellent. She replied:

Be easy to block & delete your comment Sir C but I’ll leave it there to continue to show the ugly side of this country as I have always done!

You must have had a terrible life C to continue as an ADULT spitting such racist and vile hatred towards a fellow human-being!

I’ll continue to wear ochre on my face just like my people have done for thousands of years!  My skin is my pride.

Happy Reconciliation Australia Week mate (kiss)(thumbs up)(foot steps walking away)

p.s. Never had a witchy grub, I’m coastal, the mangrove worms are delicious & the yams are amazing (Peace) #Peace

 

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The exchange, which Senator Peris posted as an image went viral with over 7,300 shares and over 15,000 likes. The public response is very positive and shows that many Australians object to racism. We commend Senator Peris both on her written response and on sharing it. We are, however, concerned that the account attacking her was named and the profile picture shown. 

At OHPI we usually remove the names and pictures of people before sharing examples of their hate speech. We believe handing identification information to the proper authorities is the best course of action as posting it online can create a dangerous and uncontrollable online mob. The resulting harm can be greater then that cause by their initial racist comment as there is no way to ensure the response remains proportionate.

In this case a number of different people who happened to have the same name as the account of C were tagged in the photo. The best case is that all but one of them were wrongly accused and forced to explain to friends, family and potentially people they do business with, that this was not them. The allegations against those people, which are made simply by wrongly tagging them, could be defamatory and could have a real impact on their reputation. What’s worse, other people in their anger follow the link and abuse the person it refers to. Someone posted some of that misdirected anger which itself became abusive (again we have removed the details of the people involved).

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 The issue was highlighted on the page itself as people worked to resolve it. 

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The problem is, even if the right C is focused on there is a problem. The account of C listed a business website which then gave an address, phone number and e-mail address. Quite a few people posted the link. Some posted details from the website urging people to use them.

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A few people saw the problem. One described it as a nightmare telling people they were “doing real-world, real-life damage to the WRONG people”.

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One went further highlighting that this could be a fake profile using someone else’s name and the link to a business that has nothing to do with them.

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That might not be the case this time, but at OHPI we certainly have seen trolls doing this regularly. If people decide mob attacks are a good response, at least some of the time they will be falling into the trap of the trolls.

Then there was the background research pointing out he has held a position with Rotary.

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Rotary actually responded to this saying he is an ex-member and distancing themselves from what they called his “horrible comments”.

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This suggests the profile of C is likely real if people who know him seem not to be surprised and have passed that up the line within Rotary. Still, next time it could be a troll.

Finally there was the effort by a random third party to start a petition to demand the police investigate C for racism. The incident happened about 12 hours ago. It’s already been reported in the media. Let’s give the police a fair chance to deal with it before starting petition. The relevant provision is not racism but a breach of S 474.17 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code “using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence”. If Senator Peris did want to take it forward as a complaint about racism, that is not a police matter. The Racial Discrimination Act is not part of the ciminal law – which is one reason why efforts from some quarters to change it are so misplaced. Senator Peris would have to personally take C to court if she wanted to apply the Racial Discrimination Act, and the likely result is that he would be told to appologise.

Another concern is that petitions are often used as a way of harvesting e-mail addresses. If the police has been given sufficient time, and they refused to take action, and Senator Peris wanted to take it further… then there may be grounds for her to set up a petition. That would protect the integrity of the petition and ensure the situation wasn’t being abused by a third party simply to gather people’s data. We’re not saying that was the intention of the person who made the petition in this case, but again, who knows what the situation might be next time. 

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It’s great so many people wanted to help. At the same time, there is a right way to handle these things so they don’t cause further harm. The suggestion from us, to stop things getting out of control, is to remove names and images and to avoid anything which could be seen as inciting a mob response. Exposing the racism and hate is a good thing. Reporting it to police is a good thing. Inciting vigilante justice… not so good. The online mob is far too dangerous.

As long as OHPI is around we are of course also happy to help with situations like this, whether it is a public figure or a private individual being attacked. We are Australia’s national charity dealing with hate in social media. Our resources are seriously limited right now, but we will continue to do what we can.

Right now you can help us by sharing this briefing. If you can, a donation to support our work would help restore us to full operating capacity as we are currently running well below that at a time of rising online hate and increasing demands for our support.