The Herald Sun today reported on the “Rise of online hate speech” in Victoria. Here’s some highlights from the article and our commentary.
As the only charity in the country dedicated to this issue we’d be happy to provide the Herald Sun or any other paper with commentary for any future articles on this topic – as we have done regularly in the past for a wide range of media outlets in Australia and overseas.

Key points in the article

  • Crime Statistics show that 15 criminal charges were laid for inciting ‘racial hatred and contempt” and two for inciting religious hatred in the 2017-2018 reporting period, this is more than 4 times higher than the number reported 5 years earlier.
  • The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission reported that during this period complaints about racial discrimination increased 76% compared to a year earlier. A total of 136 racial discrimination complaints were made to the Commission during the year. Religious vilification complaints rose by 35% over the previous year to a total of 42 complaints.
  • Social media is seen as a key driver of the increase in racial and religious vilification

Our commentary

We need to start by drawing an important distinction between the crime statistics and the complaints.

Crime Stats

The crime statistics relate to serious racial / religious vilification which were reported to police and which police decided they had grounds to pursue. Serious racial / religious vilification has two elements. The first is that it incites hatred against a person or class of person on the basis of their race / religion. The second element is that it also threaten (or incite others to threaten) physical harm to the person / people or their property. The crime statistics don’t show 17 instances of racism/religious vilification, but rather 17 instances of threats of violence or property damage targeted at people because of their race or religion.

The crime statistics are far lower than the reality. Threats and indeed actual harm to people or property occur far more regularly, but in many cases the person may not be identified. The increase is likely in part a result of more surveillance, including people using mobile phones and videoing incidents, which give police a greater chance of securing a conviction and therefore making them more likely to press charges.

The numbers of charges overall is small so there shouldn’t be too much read into the percentage increase. A greater willingness of police to pursue these crimes may be contributing as much to the increase as a rise in incidents. Additionally, as police are successful in pursuing these charges through the courts, they will become more willing, and better equipped, to take on further incidents.

Complaints

The number of complaints is, however, also up. This better demonstrates that expressions of racial and religious vilification really have increased. This is in part due to the election this year and an uptick in efforts to incite racial and religious vilification as far-right political parties have tried to mobilize. These efforts have created a lot of noise, but largely fallen flat when it came to election results in Victoria.

The figures are not helped by the efforts by some in the Federal Government to stoke racism and fear in Victoria for months ahead of the Victorian election. These efforts were soundly rejected by the Victorian people with a major backlash at the ballot box against the state Liberal Party (even though it wasn’t them promoting this agenda). We’ll need to wait for the lead up to the next federal election to see if the federal Liberal Party got the message that spreading hate and fear does not play well with the Victorian electorate.

The complaint numbers are a better indicator than the crime figures, but are still far lower than the reality. Particularly if we factor in online hate speech. We could probably double the number of potential complaints with a single weekend of online research. You can see some examples of comments and pages we’ve documented from earlier this month in these two briefings.

In most cases people are ignoring rather than reporting the abuse. In some cases they reply to counter it. In others they report the online hate to the online platform (often with poor results) and possibly also to our own Fight Against Hate software so it can be tracked.

Tackling the rise in hate

As we’ve explained, for a robust and effective solution we need to gather better data and have better cooperation between impacted communities, civil society, government and researchers to really address this problem.

We have a new project starting in 2019 in which we will be working with Deakin University and 15 community organisations (yet to be selected) to tackle this problem. All we’re missing right now is government engagement.

We hope the Victorian Government will engage with us in the new year. We’ve demonstrated our impact and with the proper support we can make an even larger difference to tackle the online hate which is fueling the rise in racial and religious vilification.

Comments / support

You can leave a comment on this article in this Facebook discussion. A button on the post lets you make a tax deductible donation if you are able to support our work.