Restore Australia’s cyberbullying of Mariam Veiszadeh

mariam-briefingMaraim Veiszadeh is vocal advocate of the rights of the Muslim community in Australia. She is the founder of Islamophobia Register, which allows members of the Muslim community to report real life hate incidents they encounter. She is well recognized within the legal community of Australia, and was invited to speak at a recent conference on the Racial Discrimination Act organised by the Australian Human Rights Commission. In this briefing, we highlight how the anti-Muslim Facebook page Restore Australia was instigating a cyberbullying campaign against Maraim. The post, after being reported by many anti-hate campaigners, has been removed.

Mariam Veiszdeh came to public attention in January when she tweeted the photo of a T-shirt at Woolworths and called it racist. The T-shirt showed the Australian flag and the text “Love it or leave”. Another anti-Muslim Facebook page “Australian Defence League” (a precursor of Restore Australia) photoshopped her Tweet so that the word “Leave” was omitted, and posted it on their page. As a result, she faced a barrage of racial abuse and hate messages.

Veiszadeh decided to report one such relentless abuser to the police. In response, the US-based neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer published an article on February 20 urging its readers to “flood her with racial and religious abuse” for reporting her anti-Muslim abuser. It led to another hate campaign waged against her on Twitter, during which she received five death threats. On May 28, the online troll she reported was sentenced to 180 hours of community service for “using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence” (s 474.17 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code).

The Facebook community page “Restore Australia” was doing the same thing. As shown below, it was openly inciting its supporters to leave abusive messages on her page and “join in” the cyberbullying. This was in clear violation to Facebook’s community standards on “Attacks on Public Figures” which states: “We remove credible threats to public figures, as well as hate speech directed at them – just as we do for private individuals.”

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The use of the words “bombs” and “bitch” further indicated the hateful nature of the comments it wanted its supporters to leave on Mariam’s Facebook page. Given the background and history of Mariam’s work, and the anti-Muslim nature of this page, it was evident that the page was targeting her for her Islamic heritage and for championing the rights of the Muslim community in Australia. Facebook should not allow its platform to be used for such hate speech.

Moreover, what the page was asking its supporters to do is illegal. As already seen, the use of an internet connection to “menace, harass or cause offence” is a criminal offence under s.474.17 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code. It is under this law, that her harasser was sentenced on May 28. Further, Section 11.2 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code holds that “A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the commission of an offence by another person is taken to have committed that offence and is punishable accordingly”. As such, the administrator of the Restore Australia page is himself liable to criminal charges.

In a speech before the Islamic Museum of Australia on May 21, Veizsadeh spoke out against the cyberbullying she repeatedly faces from such anti-Muslim Facebook pages. “The organizers [of Facebook Pages], knowing full well that they are misleading their followers, are mischievously trying to incite abuse against me – and ignorant people who don’t know any better blindly follow suit, sending me hate mail after hate mail – abusive emails and use of my photos to create very, very offensive and derogatory memes. I’ve become a poster child for the Islamophobes and hateful bigots everywhere. It’s honestly exhausting.” She also discussed the impact this has had on her personal life and her health.

We are glad that Facebook removed the post after being reported. We also thank our supporters for pointing the post out to us, and for reporting it to Facebook.

If you come across posts that are instigating a hate campaign against someone, do report it. For instructions on how to report such posts to Facebook, go here. We would also request you to report such posts to our online hate reporting system