The Online Hate Prevention Institute was one of 42 organisations to make a submission to the Victorian Parliament’s Inquiry Into Anti-Vilification Protections. Our submission, dated January 17, 2020, highlights the effectiveness of legislation in signaling the values of society, but also highlights practical limitations with the current legal framework and its implementation. We call for the introduction of a new lower level penalty, such as a fine, which could be more readily applied to cases of online hate, as well as calling for stronger mechanism to tackle serious hate speech which incites violence.

We state that, “Major platforms should be under an obligation to prevent the display of material which is unlawful in Victoria to users of their platform who are connecting from Victoria”.

Submission Preamble

We thank the Committee for the opportunity to make this submission to the inquiry. Much of today’s vilification and most importantly, serious vilification, is occurring online or contains online elements. As the only Harm Prevention Charity in Australia dedicated to protecting people by reducing such harmful vilification, we have a strong interest in this inquiry and in the ways the Parliament can better protect targeted sections of the Victorian community from vilification in general and online vilification in particular.

The inquiry is an important step to assess and plan for the ever emerging and shifting terrain of online vilification and hate. Providing protection and prevention from harm for citizens in this terrain is complex and the Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI) has been both a pioneer and now seasoned voice in this space.

The advice provided in this submission is founded upon a recognition of the seriousness that high-impact acts of vilification have on individuals and communities. However, the advice is cognisant of the realities of the scale and limitations of online platforms, legal jurisdictions, effectiveness and impact of legal and regulatory positions. We are also conscious of the need to strike an appropriate balance between countering vilification and respecting individual liberties and freedoms of expression. The recommendations in this report reflect those concerns but also provide concrete capacities to protect and foster Victorian communities through remedies to tackle online vilification and hate.

OHPI is unique as a charity with specialised and proven expertise, methodologies and software tools that give us the capacity to identify, categorise and remove instances of online hate. We have had thousands of offensive and vilifying posts removed across major online platforms.

We have worked with many parts of the Victorian community and Government. Our team has worked with Victoria Police, the Office of Multiculturalism Affairs and Citizenship, Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities across Victoria, Imams, Rabbis, the Aboriginal Communities and many others. We have addressed issues impacting all of Victoria as well as issues impacting specific places like the Melbourne CBD and Bendigo. Our advice has been provided to Victorian, national and international bodies including the UN and UNESCO.

We are active in ‘hands-on’ action documenting, countering and building understanding about online hate and how to address it. We often partner with communities to empower and defend them against online hate. To this end we are regularly communicating with peak organisations and civil society organisations in Australia and internationally. We also have effective direct channels of communication with technology companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube and work with them to improve the systems that respond to hate and to achieve rapid results on urgent situations. This hands-on approach provides a unique perspective on the granularity of online behaviours and the tactics deployed by perpetrators of online hate.

This report has been produced as a formal submission from the OHPI to the Legal and Social Issues Committee of the Legislative Assembly of the Parliament of Victoria. We hope what we have learned over the last 8 years as specialists in this field of online hate can be of assistance to the inquiry and the Parliament.

Dr Andre Oboler, Mr Mark Civitella and Dr Nasya Bahfen

17 January 2020

Selected Extracts

“The Act is effective in sending a message that racial and religious vilification go against Victorian values and are not acceptable in Victoria.”

“The Online Hate Prevention Institute has long advocated for a lower threshold state enforced penalty, such as a fine or civil penalty, which could be used to address more minor issues of vilification – including when it occurs online. A system which allows multiple fines to lead to an increase in the amount of the fine or potentially more serious consequences such as community service orders would make this more of a deterrent. At present we have greater deterrents for poor parking than for vilification which negatively impacts the fabric of the community.”

“Jurisdiction is one of the challenges that complicates online regulation. It is particularly acute with online platforms which store and then pass on a user’s communications. To address this, we believe it is necessary for legislation to require platforms to provide a tool to verify if a user is within the State’s jurisdiction. Such a tool should work in real time giving an immediate yes or no to the question of jurisdiction.”

“We believe online platforms have the first responsibility to moderate their content. The penalties the online platforms can apply are, however, limited and our work shows them to be ineffective in the face of deliberate offenders… We believe state legislation should put platforms under an obligation to report to state authorities any user who repeatedly engaged in vilification and is not responsive to the platforms efforts to prevent such behaviour.”

“We believe vilification laws should be consistent in the protection it offers individuals and groups who fall within a protected class. This is to say that different groups should have the same protections as each other, but also that vilification should be treated the same regardless of the medium in which it occurs. Focusing in the online space we seek to address harm that targets any individual or group. We have covered group-based vilification including antisemitism, xenophobia, racism against Indigenous Australians, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, racism against a range of other communities and religious vilification against a range of other religions. We believe these groups are particular targets and deserve particular protections. We do not suggest these are the only types of hate that should be specifically addressed, these are just the ones we have seen and responded to as particularly prevalent online.”

The Full Submission

The full submission is available form the Victorian Parliament and can be downloaded here.