A thread of anti-religious hate

Following reports from the Online Hate Prevention Institute, Facebook have rapidly removed content promoting Holocaust distortion and antisemitism. The posts, appearing on two different Facebook pages, let to the discovering of further content that seeks to promote hate against people on the basis of their race or religion. This occurs amid a mix of local news and posts that are politically progressive, many advocating for refugees. The pages are not hate pages, but they contain a significant threat of hate that runs through them. A blind spot on a page that also speaks out against racism and hate, just not for those groups it targets.

Updated: 21 July 2019, discussion about a Facebook response to the antisemitism post added.

The Facebook pages

The page “Benalla World Awareness Connection” (ID: 501860039914791) was created on 9 July 2014 and currently has 156 likes. A related page that shares much of the same content “Benalla Football Sports” (ID: 309976889131948) was created on March 27 2013 and currently has 979 likes. The pages are run entirely anonymous.

The references to Benalla refer to the small city of Benalla in Victoria, Australia. It had a population of 9,298 people at the 2016 census. It should be noted that most of the people liking these pages are unlikely to have any connection to Benalla and the views on the page should not be taken as reflecting those of the people of the city. They are purely the views of the anonymous admin.

Some years ago we recommended to Facebook that they alter their system so that Facebook pages could (optionally) publicly list their administrators. It is entirely optional, but our argument was that when a complaint is made, if the person being complained about is hiding their identity, the complaint should be viewed more favourably if their is any doubt. Conversely, a page with a public responsible person should have greater freedom of speech. This approach, which Facebook adopted, helps to stop abuse while also protecting those willing to stand behind what they say.

In this case the page admin is operating anonymously and is doing so in a way that allows them to not only to promote their views, many of which are progressive and in many way promoting human rights, but also to indulge in spreading hate against various segments of society they choose to target – all without any concern about it damaging their real world reputation.

Antisemitism & Holocaust Distortion

The posts we had removed promote the idea that “the Jews have turned to Nazism”. Jews, or perhaps only “Jews in Israel”, are described as “evil murdering people”. Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Centre is tagged in the post, a trick more commonly used by the far right Holocaust deniers. The same message appeared on the “Benalla Football Sports” page.

While the problem with literally saying “Jews have turned to Nazism” would seem obvious, at least one person who read the article didn’t seem to get that. This person wrote “Um. Israel is evil people pointing out the atrocities they’re committing isn’t anti-Semitism.”

This post was not a criticism of Israeli policies. It was a use of the Holocaust to attack Jews. It said so quite openly and clearly.

The IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism states that “Manifestations [of antisemitism] might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” It goes on to give as examples of antisemitism including:

  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis

This original post. with it’s comment about “Jews” and “Jewish in Israel” clearly falls into both those categories and is not expressed as criticism of a country, whether fair or otherwise. The post claiming the comment was not antisemitic demonstrates a complete blind spot for antisemitism. The description of Israel as “evil” is demonisation and not equivalent equivalent to the sort of criticism which might be levelled against another country. Taking ones disagreement with Israeli policy to the point of using it to defend open attacks on Jews… is another example of “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”. This form of antisemitism is most commonly seen on the far left. In this instance the person who made the comment has a profile picture of them wearing a Victorian Socialists top and is a member of various far-left groups including Socialist Alternative. These groups, which speak out on racism, need to do more to educate their members about antisemitism. This was not a borderline or debatable example and the antisemitism should have been recognised by anyone involved in anti-racism work – regardless of their views on Israel.

Attacking Christians

The post below refers to “more stupid Christians that believe in god!” As the article this post links to refers to the family as “Christian missionaries”, describing them as Christians in the post is reasonable. The reference to “more stupid Christians” and that they are stupid because they believe in god, makes a negative generalisation about people who are Christian. This might be considered nothing more than bad taste were it not part of a theme the page has promoted and which it refers back to by saying this is “more” of them.

Other anti-Christian posts from the page include a post calling on people to “storm the Vatican” and promoting the idea the Catholic Church’s response would be to try and punish those that disagree with it by raping them, “they can’t rape us all” the meme states.

This next post is about a boy who committed rape, filmed it, and shared the video with his friends. The judge who initially heard the case said that because he came from a good school, the case should be dealt with less seriously so as to reduce the impact on his future. An appeal court overturned that decision and criticised the initial judge. In posting this story the admin write “from a good catholic school…?” The problem here is that there is nothing in the linked article that speaks of religion at all. The type of school he attends is not mentioned, nor is the boy’s religion (if he even has one) mentioned. This is an example of using one person who commits a crime to negatively portray an entire community. It is a common tactic in antisemitic and Islamophobic online groups.

A similar tactic is used when sharing a story the admin introduces as being about “a shameful act” by what they describe as a “White Christian woman in the USA”. The act involves this mistreatment of puppies. While the story is real, the article that was linked makes no mention of the woman’s ethnicity or of her religion (if any). This has been added by the admin in order to send a negative stereotype about a group of people, in this case white Christian women.

On similar lines is the post where they write “White Christian parents in USA – Aggravated Child Abuse in Clarksville”. The article mentions neither the ethnicity nor the religion of the parents. Again this is an effort to take a crime suggest this is the sort of thing white Christian Americans do. It promotes a negative stereotype of Christians.

Hate speech and religious freedom

Not agreeing with the beliefs of a religion, or indeed of religions in general, is perfectly fine and part of religious freedom. Such disagreement could, for example, mean rejecting the idea there is an afterlife (in general) or a heaven and a hell in the terms a particular religion promotes. You have the right to believe what you wish, but so do other people. Just like some people may support one football team, while others support another team.

A post calling the bible “bs” and saying “man made god” is an example of this. This post is simply disagreeing with the ideas of religion without going that extra step to promote hate.

Where it crosses the line is when a person seeks to incite hate (or in extreme cases violence) against people because of the belief the victim holds. That is no longer about ones right to disagree and hold different views. It has moved into the realms of interfering with the other person’s right to also enjoy that right. The posts above do this by seeking to demonise religious people.

Some views about a person and their religion might be acceptable when they are commenting the person’s public role and political matters. An example can be seen in the post which says that “our nation needs a Prime Minister who makes decisions based on evidence and leaves his personal religious beliefs out of it”. It is in response to an article about the Prime Minister calling for “more love” and “more prayer” while speaking at a religious conference.

The last post we want to highlight is one promoting a public policy position for society, but one that goes against religious freedom both of children and their families. This is not hate speech, but it is anti-religious freedom. It reads: “Comment:- Keeping kids away from religion and it’s stone aged views about sex and sexuality is a good start.”

For further thoughts on religious freedom and hate speech, please see our report “Je Suis Humain: Responsible free speech in the shadow of the Charlie Hebdo murders“. It examines the question of freedom of speech and anti-religious hate in the context of cartoons of Mohammed. A summary of the key recommendations can be seen here.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute is an Australian Charity dedicated to tackling all forms of online hate. We are funded through public donations, you can support our work with a tax deductible donation made through the PayPal Giving Fund.