Everything in moderation

Today we received a fair about of media attention due to our work on racism and the far-right. It started with an article in today’s Age. Just after 8am we were interviewed on talk-back radio at 3AW Breakfast. In the afternoon it was 7:30 from the ABC recording an interview which aired later that evening. Mean time, our social media content continued spread both through organic shares from our supporters and other members of the public, and from the paid advertising we had setup to help promote our message and our work.

Two or three people made donations to show their support for the work we were doing. Far more people tried to undermine us by posting false allegations aimed to discourage others from donating to us. Most of these posts came from people who like pages associated with the far-right, but had nothing obvious in their profile picture or name to signal this.

True facts

There allegations were generally both malicious and incredibly easy to disprove . For one thing, our Facebook page is verified. This means it has a profile badge signaling that Facebook staff have checked that the page really is owned by the organisation it claims to represent. Knowing that the page is named after and run by a real organisation, checking the charity register is both free and easy. The register can be searched at: https://www.acnc.gov.au/charity.

In our case, entering “online hate” and searching will bring up a link to our profile which can be seen here. To make life really easy, there’s two quick flags at the top of the page, one says “Charity is registered” and the other says “Charity reporting is up to date”. In our case both have a big green tick.

The ACNC profile goes further, giving the public a nice pie chart of each charities income. In our case it shows that donations from the public amounted to $8,818 (or 13.31%) of our income, government support was $2,727 (4.12%) and the rest is income from goods or services. In our case the government money is from DFAT and is a travel grant that partially covers the costs of attending a diplomatic conference in Europe as part of an official Australian Government delegation. The goods and services relates to payment for work we do for universities to assist them with their research. The $8,818 in donations is made up of much smaller donations from many members of the public.

Fake News & False Allegations

Despite the facts which are so easy to check, here’s some of what was posted on our page. Some of these people have been banned under our no platform policy, other have had their comment removed and been provided a link to this page. We leave it to you to judge if we acted fairly in each case.

Example 1

The first comment we look at says “This is a fucking scam.”

Background: This posters lives in Melbourne. It appears to be a real profile. We can quickly see a real profile of them. They do not appear to like any hate pages.

Action: Comment removed, we tried messaging the person but their privacy settings prevented this. They were not banned.

Example 2:

This example is across multiple posts where the poster (red in example 4 below) posts pages of comments (too long to repeat here). A summary is:

  • They believe Australia Day should say on January 26th but incorporate a minute of silence to remember both the attempted genocide of Indigenous Australians and the convicts “who were dragged here against their will and lived and died in shocking conditions”
  • They argue activism which divisive is “from an immature place and values outrage over outcomes”
  • When someone responds noting the poster (red) is studying a “Bachelor of social science and [has] zero empathy. Just wow”, the poster (red) responds by calling them an “ignoramus”, a “fool”, and a “Hypocrites” among other attacks.

The response we provide when we see their comments is that “our campaign is primarily focus on rejecting a particular brand of nationalism (though they would try to promote it as patriotism) which is based on a racist world view which sees the “white Australia policy” as the good old days.”

They respond by attacking us for not protecting them from the criticism they received on our page in response to their views and attacks on others. They (red) added:

“when this organisation doesn’t speak out again those types of divisive responses then it really brings into question the integrity of your claim that you are seeking greater community acceptance but suggests you may instead be profiting off the ever inflamed division”

A significant amount of time went in to reading this person’s lengthy posts and explaining to them what our aim is in general and in this campaign. OHPI is not a space where you can abuse others and expect to protected from criticism.

Background: This person is from NSW and is studying social science at university. They like pages such as Anti Fascist Action Sydney, Anonymous NSW, Australian Progressive Coalition, Anonymous, Anonymous Brisbane and a range of LGBTI charities.

Action: This person was initially given a reply explaining our charitable purpose and the purpose of the campaign (shown in part above). They continued to harass others on our page and eventually launched a misogynistic attack the moderator who replied to them. See example 4 below. This person was then banned.

This example shows just how tiring dealing with some posters can be.

Example 3

The second example asks a reasonable question, what the money raised will be spent on, but then when we treat it as a legitimate question and explain how the money will be used, they assert no money is needed and people shouldn’t support our work.

Background: The poster likes a range of Indigenous Australian related pages, as well as an Anti-Vaxxer page, something about Chemtrails, a range of more militant animal rights and environmental groups.

Action: None, except for posting the replies above.

Example 4 – this time with misogyny

The thread from above continues with two new people jumping in. Well, one of them is new. The other is our friend “Red” from example 2. Red’s final comment here asserts that:

  • We “want the conflict to stay employed”
  • That the moderator is likely a woman
  • That the moderator is “not payed because the main thing she does is Facebook admin and that’s what she counts as a significant percentage of her volunteer hours”
  • They go on to question and indeed assert a financial benefit implying it isn’t real volunteering anyway. They say, “I wonder if her day job has anything to do with any of the funding bodies behind this organisation. Bet you it does”

Just for clarity, all the moderation, the articles, the analysis, the interviews with The Age, 3AW and ABC 7:30, and the writing of this post were done by myself, Dr Andre Oboler, the Managing Director and CEO (voluntary) of the Online Hate Prevention Institute. I am male, in full time employment as a senior lecturer in the Law School at La Trobe University. The assumptions made are not only very wide off the mark, but also a clear effort to use misogynistic abuse in the response. I glad this didn’t need to be dealt with by any of the women who are volunteers or staff for us.

As for purple, they call us the “biggest scam out” and a “money grab scam”. After we ban them they attack us using another fake account with the same last name but looking like it was made 5 minutes ago. They accusing us of changing the fundraising target, of being a scam and claiming that we don’t have verified Facebook status – how they expect that to work when everyone reading it is on our page and can see the verified badge we just don’t get. For the record, we haven’t changed our goal once and the time stamps on our posts show this. The also claim we aren’t an approved charity which also makes no sense as the charity fundraising tools can only be used to raise funds for government approved charities and in any case our profile on the charities register is just one click away.

Background (red): This person is from NSW and is studying social science at university. They like pages such as Anti Fascist Action Sydney, Anonymous NSW, Australian Progressive Coalition, Anonymous, Anonymous Brisbane and a range of LGBTI charities.

Background (blue): This person has a locked down profile that doesn’t display any friends or personal information. Some people do this our of a concern for privacy, others do this with an account they use for trolling. They like pages such as Meninist, I hate the Australian Greens party, Australian Liberty Alliance, Australian Christian Lobby, and Reclaim Australia.

Action: Blue and Red were both banned.

Example 5

This one is nice and simple: “This is a big scam. Greedy thieves. Be careful.”

Background: This person appears to be an Australian living in the UK. Or perhaps just a troll. Their profile is very locked down with few details available.

Action: With no details available that make them look like a legitimate user, and given the nature of their post which is likely defamatory, we’ve banned them.

Example 6

Someone else asks “Money to stop hate ? Can I define hate. Can I be in charge?” We put a lot of working into defining hate carefully, accurately and consistently. This isn’t the only comment where someone seems surprised there would be a charity, a real organisation with real expenses and paid staff in addition to volunteers, that does work tackling online hate.

Back when we started in 2012, this view was quite common among the government departments, private donors and foundations that typically fund charities. It’s slowly starting to shift and in the last few months we have started to see calls to apply for grants which include tackling online hate as one of the things they will consider funding.

Background: This person is from Sydney. They appear to be a real person and are not associated with any hate groups.

Action: Just a reply. In it we invited them review our definitions on the website and offer any suggestions they had. They were also told that being in charge was a voluntary position, and if they have the skills, time and interest, they could send a CV through. (No, we don’t really think they are serious, but sometimes its nice to think about someone else stepping in… specially when there’s this much work to do)

Example 7

Another pretty blatant misinformation attack. “Looks like some extreme rightwing mob is taking ya’s all for a ride on the whirlygig! Prior to reaction please check who this “online institute”is.”

Background: Very little detail is available on this profile, though we can see they like the CFMEU.

Action: The person was messaged with a pointer to this article. Their comment was removed but they were not banned.

Example 8

Another post said “This sounds like a Soros type of Shill Organisation”.

We recently discussed the antisemitism aimed at Soros with Channel Ten Daily. In any case, with total donations of under $9,000 last financial year, we’re clearly not being funded by any large foundations.

Background: Nothing notable.

Action: The comment was removed and the poster was sent a message. They were not banned.

Racist & Xenophobic

Example A

A person left the comment “Why can’t aboriginals and other minority free loaders who came here under doubtful circumstances just be greatful they live in this great country”

Background: This user has just 36 friends, almost no content on their profile, and is a supporter of the Australian Christian Lobby.

Action: Banned.

Example B

Another post says “To the indigenous…..you lost a war, get over it.”

Background: The poster likes pages such as Australian Conservatives and Australian Christian Lobby.

Action: The post was removed.

Example C

This post suggests changing the name of Australia Day to “Aboriginal Dole Bludgers Day ?” The poster in another comment suggests Indigenous people should get a job.

Background: Supports pages related to Andrew Bolt, Tommy Robinson, the CFMEU, Australian Unions, Green Anarchy and the Electrical Trades Union.

Action: Post removed, user banned.

Supporting our work

As you can see, quite a few people have been making comments with fake information to deter people from supporting our work. Some are doing it deliberately to undermine our mission of reducing the harm that occurs from online hate. Other just haven’t heard of us, so post a comment without doing any background research, and with no regard for the harm it can cause to a legitimate charity.

The best way to counter the impact of these activities is to make a donate yourself (there also other ways to donate). It can be small, nothing more than a token, but it will show people you’ve looked into us and are willing to back our work. You can see the wide range of online hate issues we have tackled on our website as well as some examples of our impact.

You can leave a comment or donate on Facebook in this thread.