Abusive anti-mosque Facebook page taken down

abc.net.au, by Damien Larkins and staff, September 16, 2014, You can view the article here or read the text below.

Abusive anti-mosque Facebook page taken down

Facebook has taken down a Gold Coast anti-mosque page which included calls to rape and hang a local councillor.

The proposed development of a Currumbin warehouse into a mosque has sparked outrage amongst the community.

Death threats to two councillors over the development are currently under investigation by police.

The Facebook page targeted Councillor Chris Robbins, who represents the area in which the proposed mosque is to be built.

Ms Robbins says the page featured her image in the profile picture, with claims she ‘hated Australia’ and called her a ‘traitor’.

“That just directed a huge amount of vindictive [behaviour] against me,” she said.

Users of the page called for her to be gang raped, hanged and her family decapitated.

“There was an incident where someone suggested that somebody should put bullets through my council office window and therefore we had to evacuate the office,” she said.

Ms Robbins says pages like this one are damaging.

“I can wear it, I’m a politician, but some of these sites they just take after people or groups or individuals who have no expectation of that sort of thing in their lives,” she said.

“It must be so devastating for those people.”

The councillor has voted against the mosque, citing parking and noise concerns.

“I said to them right from the start, this is a town planning issue, it will be decided on town planning grounds, not based upon people’s views about one religion or another,” she said.

Page ‘breached Facebook standards’

The councillor says it took a month and a half to have just the slanderous image removed.

“I had to hire a lawyer to get Facebook to finally take it down,” she said.

Ms Robbins says the anti-mosque page, which has now been removed, contained horrific vilification of Islam and the proposed mosque.

“To me the whole page breached Facebook standards, but it took six weeks just to get the profile picture taken down,” she said.

“So I don’t have much respect for Facebook’s standards at this point in time.”

Preventing online hate

An online harm-prevention charity has played a major role in having the anti-mosque Facebook page removed.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI) was formed just over two years ago to combat anti-Semitism on the internet.

The Melbourne-based group includes members from legal, computer science and journalism backgrounds.

OHPI founder Dr Andre Obler says they soon started wrestling with other forms of online abuse.

“We monitor situations like this mosque situation and also monitor the general trends of hate particularly coming from within Australia on social media,”

“What we try and do is find ways to change the game.”

The group was alerted to the Currumbin page last week and began taking screenshots and watching the users.

Dr Obler says it is similar to a recent page made to protest a mosque in the Victorian town of Bendigo.

“What we find is a lot of them are from outside Australia and certainly from outside whichever local community is currently being attacked,” he said.

He says the Currumbin page was most likely taken down because of legal ramifications over threats towards the councillors, not because of anti-muslim sentiments.

“That’s why I think in this case because it would have cross boundaries, even in US law, it did eventually come down,” he said.

Putting the responsibility back on Facebook

The OHPI wants to find ways to have Facebook recognise hate speech and make complaints easier to resolve.

However Dr Obler says the company is notoriously tight-lipped and resolving the issue is not in their interests.

“Every time someone posts a hateful comment, they’re also seeing ads on the side of the screen,” he said.

“There’s a direct connection between the amount of content on Facebook, hateful or otherwise, and the amount of revenue that Facebook generates.”

The OHPI wants better controls to place the responsibility for dealing with hate speech back on sites like Facebook.