The Big Smoke, 11 December 2014, by Richard Jackson
OHPI: Tracking down the data to combat online hate

Richard Jackson attended the launch by The Online Hate Prevention Institution (OHPI) of a database it hopes will help combat online hate.

On Tuesday night the B’nai B’rith Centre, a Jewish organisation based in Darlinghurst, celebrated the launch of a software database designed by the charity The Online Hate Prevention Institution (OHPI) that will collect and measure messages of violence and abuse posted online.

Dr Andre Oboler, CEO of OHPI and creator of the database told The Big Smoke about first engaging with online anti-Semitism while meeting with “major human rights organisations” in 2008, where the focus was on specific anti-Semitic websites. At that meeting, Andre pointed out the real problem were social media sites, “where the people are.”

There were some issues. “If you count websites, you have one website, another website and another, so the first problem was how do we solve this? And the first issue was data, how do we know how big the issue is?”

The scope of the data collection was then expanded to cover all forms of hate, including misogyny, homophobia, vilification of Indigenous Australians, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hate, trolling, digital self-harm and anti-ANZAC and military content.

An internet user can copy and paste the URL of the offending post into the database and register the type of hate, whether it is misogynistic, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic. This will allow for hate and abuse to monitored and measured. Allowing charities working with OHPI to better document and combat hate.

The audience heard stories of such hate from Talitha Stone, an activist involved in Collective Shout, a movement against objectification in the public sphere. She led a protest against US rapper Tyler the Creator plans to come to Australia in 2013, after objecting to his lyrics, which often make reference to rape. For this, Talitha received a torrent of abuse and threats via Twitter.

Recently, Collective Shout have been behind a campaign to stop stores from stocking the video game Grand Theft Auto 5, believing it fuels violence against women. Target and Kmart have since pulled the game from their stores.

Once again, Talitha received abuse. Sitting beside the rest of the panel, she read some examples to the audience:

“If I ever see you, you will be stabbed”

“I hope you get gang raped”

“I hope your family get caught in a burning house fire and you have to watch them burn to death”

“I wanna rape you with the game controller.”

Anthony Scerri, a Youth Development Project Officer at the Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra explained the issues that children are encountering to The Big Smoke: “They don’t know where to go, they don’t really know what options are available to them. A lot of time young people hold it within themselves and it can lead to depression, they try to be resilient about it, and in the worse case of situations, it could lead to suicide.”

This program coincides with the recent launch of a Federal government bill to protect children against cyber bullying. The Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014 will create a complaints system whereby children can report incidents of bullying to social media sites and if the company fails to remove the material and work cooperatively with the government, they will face fines.

Here’s hoping that both the OHPI’s program and the government’s legislation will go some way to stopping online hate, particularly on social media, as responses from companies have been limited.

A 2013 report by OHPI documented over 50 anti-Muslim pages on Facebook; a year later, an update showed that only 16 had been shut down.

Speaking to the audience last night, Julie Nathan, Research Officer for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, quoted Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian minister of justice: “The Holocaust did not begin with the gas chambers – it began with words…”