In February, 2022, the Legal and Social Issues Committee commenced their Inquiry into the rise of the far-right extremist movements in Victoria in the context of:

  • social isolation and growing economic insecurity;
  • racist scapegoating;
  • the role of mainstream and social media;
  • the distrust of governments and politicians.

The Committee asked what are their methods of recruitment and communication, how the COVID-19 Pandemic has affected the growth of far-right extremism in the Victorian context, and what steps need to be taken to counter these groups and their influence.

We made our submission on May 13, 2022, and a supplemental submission on May 23, 2022, in light of the terrorist attack carried out by a far-right extremist in Buffalo, New York.

Submission Preamble

We thank the Legal and Social Issues Committee for the opportunity to make this submission. As the only Harm Prevention Charity in Australia dedicated to protecting people against online hate and extremism, we have a strong interest in the inquiry and the protection of the Victorian community.

The inquiry is an important step to assess and plan to tackle extremism and the online vilification and hate which lead to radicalisation. Providing protection and prevention from harm 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 serious impact that extremism has on individuals and communities, but we are also cognisant of the realities of the scale and limitations online platforms face, limitations of legal jurisdiction, and potential regulatory impacts. We are also conscious of the need to strike an appropriate balance between countering vilification and respecting individual liberties and freedom of expression. The recommendations in this submission reflect those concerns but also provide concrete capacities to protect and foster Victorian communities through evidence-based strategies against online contributions to extremism.

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 and extremism. We have had thousands of items of harmful content removed across major online platforms. Our work on extremism has led to the removal of terrorist manifestos and videos. We have also prevented online advertising from Victoria supporting the promotion of terrorism.

We have worked with many parts of the Victorian community and Government including Victoria Police; the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship; Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities across Victoria; Aboriginal Communities; sporting bodies; and many others. We have addressed issues impacting all of Victoria as well as issues impacting specific places like the Melbourne CBD and Bendigo.

Highlights of our work countering extremism include: briefing major banks and AUSTRAC on terrorist financing; briefing Victoria Police on communications during mass casualty events; exposing the Victorian far-right group antipodean resistance (and later NSN) including their origins and efforts to manipulate the media; and deconstructing the radicalisation of 8chan that led to multiple far-right terrorist attacks. Recently we have been briefing police, government and technology companies across Europe, the USA, and Scandinavia on extremism.

We are active in ‘hands-on’ action documenting, countering, and building understanding about online hate and radicalisation, and how to address it. We partner with communities to empower and defend them. We work with civil society organisations in Australia and internationally and maintain direct channels of communication with technology companies to improve the systems and enable rapid responses.

We hope what we have learned over the last 10 years as specialists in this field of online hate can be of assistance to the inquiry.

Dr Andre Oboler and Dr Nasya Bahfen

13 May 2022

Resources

Our full submission to the Inquiry into Extremism in Victoria is available to read and download here.

The full supplemental submission can be found here.

The 150-page Legal and Social Issues Committee Inquiry Report is located here.