An English proverb says “There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know”. This proverb is documented as far back as 1546 in John Heywood’s “Dialogue of Proverbs II” as, in old English, “Who is so deafe, or so blynde, as is hee, That willfully will nother here or see”. This proverb is very apt for a social media world and shrinking attention spans.

Commenting in ignorance

Some people seem to feel it is better to immediately add their comments to the online noise rather than to first become informed. They comment on articles, making assumptions about the contents based on the headline, without actually reading the text. When they do this, they are comment in ignorance.

Often their assumptions are directly and clearly contradicted by the text of the article itself. Others then response to them, often also without reading the article. This lowers the quality of the discussion to the frustration of authors, publishers and everyone who has taken the time to actually read the article.

This behaviour is compounded by Facebook’s advertising algorithms which either promote content to people who are more likely to click links, or they promote it to people who are more likely to comment. Those paying for boosts can choose to increase either traffic to their site, or engagement on Facebook. There is no option to ask for content to be shared with people who are more likely to READ the article and THEN comment. That would be a far more useful audience to target for those promoting information and analysis.

Commenting without context

Another form of “blindness” occurs when people see content addressing one problem, and instead of supporting it, make the accusation that the organisation is only dealing with that problem and ignoring some other problem which is of more concern to the person commenting.

Part of the issue here is technology driven. People often see social media posts in isolation. The person seeing it has no idea who the organisation is (other than their name), what they do, or what they have recently done. Many comment without investigating further.

As an organisation that tackles all forms of online hate this happens to us as the Online Hate Prevention Institute quite a lot. It’s not malicious and we take the time to reply and to provide those who ask with links to parts of our work which are of more interest to them. After 8 years of tackling all forms of online hate, we have done at least some work on most topics, and a lot of work on most of the more common types of hate.

An example of this occurred when, at the start April, we posted about COVID-19 and racism against Chinese and Asian Australians. One of the comments we received asked “Why did you lot not step up when there is considerable amount of hate speech going on about my people the First Nation people of Australia”. We replied with details of our month long campaign, run just the month before, on exactly this issue. We also linked to an index of all of our work on racism against Indigenous Australians over the last 8 years. This is a good exchange as it comes from a good place.

Hijacking

When people comment on a post about one type of hate to ask about another, it doesn’t always come from a good place. The real agenda of many is to actively disrupt anti-racism / anti-hate efforts against certain groups. This is itself a form of racism / hate.

Some times it is done with deliberate malicious intend out of hate for a group that is attacked and a desire to disrupt any effort to combat that hate. Other times it is done for political / advocacy purposes, perhaps without personal malicious intent, but still in a deliberate effort to undermine anti-hate efforts to protect a particular community. In both cases it is a form of racism / hate because its effect. The intend behind an action is irrelevant if its practical effect is to help promote discrimination and racism / hate.

We see this in the comments on our articles on Islamophobia. Some make comments about “Muslim’s hate of the west“, something that conflates the views of groups like ISIS, and significant bodies of opinion in some Muslim majority countries (sometimes promoted by the state), with the views of mainstream Muslims who live in the West. It is a conflation of religion and politics. Other comments point to the persecution of Christian overseas, disrupting efforts to stop hate against Muslim Australians by demanding attention instead be focused on this issue. Our remit is reducing the risk of harm to people in Australia from online hate. Imagine disrupting the work of a charity like Lifeline to complain they aren’t doing enough to fight cancer or train guide dogs, that’s really what’s going on here. What motivates it? The issue is raised simply to be disruptive and to justify anti-Muslim hate.

This hijacking is particularly visible in relation to efforts to remember the victims of the Holocaust. It occurs without fail every UN International Holocaust Memorial Day (January 27th). The responses range from outright attacks on commemorating the Holocaust to posts of Palestinian flags or “free Palestine” slogans. Such disruption, deliberately disrespecting the commemoration of the victims and the sharing of testimony from the survivors, does not show a commitment to human rights advocacy, but a callousness disregard of other victims and their human rights.

The problem also occurs more broadly on articles tackling antisemitism. There is a form of antisemitism on the left which seeks to protect all minority groups from racism, except for Jews. Some parts of the left, most visible in UK Labor under Jeremy Corbyn, just refuses to acknowledge or treat antisemitism as a real issue. This is itself a form of racism as it makes an exception out of one ethnicity and says hate is wrong, but hate against this group is ok.

We sometimes see disruptive posts on our articles about Islamophobia demanding to know what we are doing about antisemitism. The posters seem to assume that every organisation tackling Islamophobia is by definition a far-left antisemitic organisation. Some of them simply wish to disrupt work on Islamophobia in much the same way others seek to disrupt work on antisemitism. This too promotes hate and undermines work against hate, that is its effect, regardless of any intent.

Responses to Dymocks

The Online Hate Prevention Institute had a significant success raising awareness that Dymocks was selling many different copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. We referred the issue to the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (the peak Jewish community body in Victoria), who undertook further work researching the problem, and from there it went to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (the peak Jewish community body in Australia) who took the issue up with Dymocks. An article in J-Wire discussed Dymocks move and when shared it in a Facebook post we received the following responses:

Example 1:

A person wrote: “I think the council of jewry need to centre attention more closely on themselves and the.Jewish persecution of the Palestinian people and theft of Country and lands from the Palestinian people “Let he who is free of Sin cast the first stone” well here I am accusing Israel and the Jewish People of unjust Persecution of the Palestinian People …. Let it be known they are guilty.”

The first problem with this message is its accusation that the Australian Jewish community is responsible for what happens in the Middle East. “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” is quite literally one of the example of antisemitism in the IHRA Working Definition of antisemitism. This is an example of it.

The idea of “accusing Israel and the Jewish People” and then declaring “Let it be known they are guilty” is a little too reminiscent of religious incitement which led to massacres of Jewish communities in the past.

The accusation of “theft of Country and lands from the Palestinian people” can be read in a number of ways, one of them is a claim that all of Israel should be Palestine. While the future borders between and Israeli and Palestinian state are up for negotiation between the parties, denial of Israel’s right to exist is itself antisemitic. A detailed explanation for why this is the case is included in a 2005 statement tabled at the UN by a coalition of Jewish NGOs. Part of the statement explains:

Denying the Jewish people their basic human rights, including the right to self-determination, is anti-Semitism. This basic right is fulfilled by the existence of the State of Israel. It is protected and advanced by the political movement to guarantee Jewish self-determination – Zionism. Zionism is about the Jewish people, and does not compete with any other people’s basic human right of self-determination. As anti-Zionism seeks to undermine this basic right of the Jewish, it is anti-Semitic. When anti-Israel rhetoric, advocacy or activity crosses the line beyond which it seeks to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish State, it is anti-Semitic. There is no government whose policies are not legitimately criticized, but when this criticism aims to dismantle that country, it ceases to be legitimate. Disagreeing with French policies does not lead critics to the conclusion that France as a county is illegitimate, or that France should be disbanded. The same respect should be afforded to the State of Israel.

Example 2

Another person wrote: ” I’m always startled by your organisations grandiose name, when it appears to be only certain types of hate as defined by you that you want to prevent.”

This might have been a person who wasn’t aware of the range of our work. We responded politely, and at some length, to fill them in. We highlighted the problem of people only seeing one thing and not being aware of the diversity of our work.

We deal with all forms of online hate.

Topics we have covered in include: general racism, xenophobia, racism against Indigenous Australians, racism against Asian Australians, racism against Chinese Australians, Antisemitism, Islamophobia, religious vilification of Christians, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, cyberbullying, terrorism, attacks on the ANZACS and military veterans, trolling, Holocaust denial and a bunch of other occasional topics that have come up such as attacks on bicycle riders.

There’s always someone who jumps to the conclusion that because we have tackled hate against X, that means we are ignoring Y. That occurs even when we have just completed a campaign on Y, or when the post we made immediately before happened to be about Y.

The problem is that on social media everyone feels entitled to comment without firm investing even a token effort into becoming informed. You’ll see this right across social media in the way people comment on articles based on the headline alone, without taking the time to read the article they are commenting on.

Please do take a look at our website: https://ohpi.org.au/ note that the 12 different areas of hate don’t cover everything we do, but they give a pretty good selection of different major topics. If you are aware of an issue we aren’t covering, specially if we have never covered it, and you have examples of it, please feel do drop us an e-mail or message the page.

From the response we received, that was not the answer this person was looking for. They wrote back saying groups like our “splinter everybody into a thousand identity groups which inevitably leads to xenophobia” this is an argument against multiculturalism and diversity. It is the argument that everyone should fully assimilate and the various ethnic, cultural and religious groups should give up their identity.

He goes to attack us for covering such a range of work. “What do you know about indigenous Australians? What about Asian racism.  Is it racism against Chinese Australians ???? Like what ??? Anti semitism ,what about Iraels oppression of the Palestinians. I haven’t seen you standing up for to many Christians.”

Our work on racism against Indigenous Australians has been cited by the United Nations and reports by UNESCO. It’s was endorsed by Indigenous leaders and academic experts. It has regularly featured in Indigenous media. We have documented racism against both Chinese Australians and Asian Australians more generally in our work on COVID-19. Again we see antisemitism completely dismissed by referring to Israel. As for Christians, there tends not to be very much anti-Christian hate on social media in Australia, but there is some and we do cover it.

Transphobia, homophobia, and misogyny are dismissed as “the usual politically correct buzzwords that constantly express hatred towards traditional values including the church, Anzacs, veterans”. Again we see anyone that doesn’t fit this person’s idea of a “real Australia” being classes as a threat and hate against them being supported.

He goes on, “Holocaust denial what about the 100,000,000 million people killed by Mao. I haven’t heard a lot about that?” Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” resulted in a famine that killed 10s of millions. Estimates range from 30 million to 45 million. Other political programs killed a couple of million more people. An important difference thought is that, as explained at the link above, “Mao didn’t order people to their deaths in the same way that Hitler did, so it’s fair to say that Mao’s famine deaths were not genocide”. Our focus on the Holocaust, and that of the international community, is not just because of the number of people who died. It is because the Holocaust was a systematic, industrialised and deliberate process to turn human beings into corpses. It is the Holocaust that led to much of modern human rights law.

He goes on to accuse us of being “a group of standard inner suburban ideologues that have a set of leftist values”. OHPI is a harm prevention charity, we are not “leftist”, “rightist” or even “political”. We have an objective of preventing harm to people from online hate. That is what we do. It’s that simple.

Example 3

Another user writes: ” What about the hatred and persecution of the palestinian people by the Zionist government of Israel and their systemic genocide through embargo’s of medicine and continually blowing up their utilities so they only have 4 hours electricity per day and no hygienic drinking water.”

References to “Zionist government of Israel” are usually a good sign things are about to go off the rails. Again, this was a thread about the sale of the “Nazi bible” which outlines Hitler’s antisemitic ideology which led to the Holocaust. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the Middle East. The response “what about Israel” to the raising of antisemitism is an effort to dismiss concerns over antisemitism.

Having shared the comment, it’s also important to highlight that the information it contains on the situation with Gaze is itself inaccurate and misleading. According to the World Bank in 2017, Gaza only had the one power plant and Hamas imports most of its electricity from Israel and the rest from Egypt. More recent news shared by the UN in 2019 stated that in 2017 mains power provision in Gaza had indeed dropped 2 to 4 hours per day due to “disputes between the de facto authorities in Gaza [i.e. HAmas] and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA)”. Specifically, “failure to resolve a longstanding dispute between the two Palestinian authorities on issues related to tax exemption for fuel and revenue collection from electricity consumers resulted in the PA reducing payments for electricity in Gaza”. The article highlights how financial support from Qatar more than doubled the provision of power in 2019 and hospitals saw mains power access rise to 22 hours a day (generators are used the rest of the time). A new solar power plant at Nasser hospital (funded by Japan) and US$0.5 million in solar power added to support healthcare laboratories in four hospitals around Gaza further raise power and reduce costs. There’s clearly still more work to be done, but this isn’t an Israeli-Palestinian issue, bur rather an internal Palestinian issue.

As to water, as UNICEF explains, there are significant problems in Gaza, including infrastructure that needs replacing and a need to purity the water stored water – something which takes electricity. Israel has an agreement to deliver 10 million cubic meters of water a year to Gaza, and in practice delivers about 15% more than this, but it still only accounts for about 5% of Gaza’s water – though that may increase with a new water pipeline from Israel. The rest of Gaza’s water is sourced internally, but most of it need processing, which takes additional electricity. Ireland is funding a major solar energy field to power water treatment plant. UNICEF also build a desalination plant in Gaza a few years ago.

As to medicine, there isn’t an embargo and Israeli and the World Health Organisation have been working to supply Gaza. The situation as always is complex with armed groups in Gaza making demands and threatening violence if they don’t get what they want (for those who are interested, there’s more on this here). Governments around the world, including Israel, have been struggling with Coronavirus.

As you can see, the comment raised some real issues that affect people in Gaza, but some of the information is very out of data, and blaming Israel for the problems is nothing but an excuse to cover over internal issues and the real underlying problems, including the need to a solution to the conflict rather than a perpetuation of it. When those same arguments are used to dismiss unrelated issues related to antisemitism, they take on a new and uglier character. This is the attempt to use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict overseas, to undermine efforts to tackle hate here in Australia. Mein Kampf is helping to radicalise the far right, that neo-Nazi far right is not only antisemitic, it is also Islamophobic.

In an effort to undermine Australian anti-racism work from the Jewish community, such responses undermine efforts that also protect Australian Muslims and Australian Palestinians. This is another form of being deliberately blind. In this case it is to advance a political agenda and relay speaking points no matter how old, how unrelated, or how counterproductive it would be to disrupt with them on this particular discussion.

Conclusion

As a small charity we just don’t have the resource to argue our way through a mob of trolls, nor should we have to. We run a space for those who support us and who agree with our objective of reducing harm to people from online hate. Those who reject this idea, either in general or when we apply it to groups other than their own, don’t belong on our page.

At the same time, the way Facebook works means people who comment don’t always know who we are, our purpose or what we have already done. We need to separate out those who will not see, from those simply haven’t yet looked. We also encourage all of you to read articles and not just their headlines, whether published by us or others, before you start commenting.

The work we do requires an understanding not only of each type of hate we deal with, but also an understanding of social media and the technology that powers it. Our work across so many different types of hate makes us far more effective than if we focused on just one type of hate. Much of the work we do simply isn’t done by anyone else. We bring a technical depth which is recognised around the world and which makes a real difference here in Australia.

Thank you to those who support us, and we apologise if documenting and removing the hate sometimes takes a little while. As supporter commented on our Dymocks post: ” There seems to be a lot of anti Jewish sentiment here. Probably due to ignorance, really. I feel sorry for you people who hate Jews.” Indeed.

This briefing is our extended reply to this comment. It is also our way of remaining transparent. We delete the hate comments and ban the posters, but we still share many of the comments and give our response. Those comments we have shared which were not hate have also been removed (but the posters have not been banned!) in order to allow the people who made them to remain anonymous. We thank you again for your support.

Add Your Comments and Support

Comments on this briefing can be made on this Facebook Post.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute is a Registered Charity that tackles all forms of online hate. You can support our work by making a donation at https://ohpi.org.au/donate/. You can also join us on Facebook, or join our mailing list.

The Online Hate Prevention Institutes has a series of campaigns throughout 2020, the full plan can be seen here. Antisemitism will be our focus through June, adding to an extensive lost of work on antisemitism we have completed since 2012. Before that, through May we will be running a campaign to stop online Misogyny. A fundraiser for the May campaign is now open. A fund raiser for the June campaign will open next month. Each campaign has a basic plan of work, which is then extended as fundraising goals are met.