Tackling racism against Indigenous Australians must be a priority

Through March 2020 the Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI) is running a campaign tackling racism against Indigenous Australians. We’ve been working on this problem since we were established 8 years ago.

Much of the language, imagery and messaging in racism targeting Indigenous Australians is unique to Australia. The staff working in moderation at the large social media companies are unlikely to have the training or experience to properly handle this sort of hate. This uniquely Australian kind of racism is therefore less likely to be tackled proactively by online platforms and the risk of complaints being wrongly dismissed is increased.

A meme promoting a negative stereotype of Indigenous Australians making a harmful generalisation about substance abuse. Substance abuse was a major health crisis in some Indigenous communities. Recent research shows the problem has reduced by 95.2%.

As an Australian each of us has a responsibility to report this racism when we see it, and to do what we can to ensure online racism against Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders is appropriately tackled.

Much of the racism against Indigenous Australians online is in the form of Aboriginal Memes. Back in 2012 Facebook defended keeping online such racist memes, as well as pages which advocated their creation.

OHPI’s advocacy and our major report into the issue, Aboriginal Memes and Online Hate, highlighted the scope of the problem and together with the efforts of a number of grassroots campaigners and advocacy from the Australian Human Rights Commission, the media and government, led to a change in policy by Facebook.

Our work tackling racism against Indigenous Australians has been noted internationally including in reports by UNESCO.

Today, finding such content on Facebook is a rarer occurrence, but it does still occur and some early content continues to circulate. The content has also migrated across to platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Through our 2020 campaign on Racism Against Indigenous Australians we will be documenting examples of the problem and providing a picture of the state of social media in 2020 with respect to such racism.

A racist aboriginal meme which promotes a stereotype that Indigenous Australians are all reliant on welfare. It comes from an account dedicated to promote such memes.

One things that has shocked us is the high level of abuse we received simply for announcing that we would be looking into this problem. This is not just a normalisation of racism in society, but active opposition to it being called out. Left unchecked this creates an environment where racism can flourish and it is victims and active bystanders who are silenced. Racism is not free speech, but a threat to freedom of speech.

In the Australian context, efforts to silence Indigenous Australians, and any discussion on the harms they face from racism, exacerbate the problems of structural and institutional racism within society. It places additional barriers in front of Indigenous Australians and seeks to discourage those who would support them.

Despite all this negativity, it is heartening to see the many positive uses of social media by Indigenous Australians. Positive memes that celebrate Indigenous art and culture as well as the successes and achievements of specific Indigenous people together out number the negative memes.

This positive meme celebrates success and a grandfather’s commitment to supporting his granddaughter getting an education that will give her more options in life. More at the ABC.

Online advocacy for Indigenous rights also has a strong presence. Many will agree with some aspects of this advocacy but not with others. Some of the demands and language are particularly strong. Whether one agrees with a particular advocacy message or not, the fact it is occurring is important for Australia as a country. It is a voice for Indigenous Australians which not only raises awareness but challenges all of us, the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community a like, to stop and consider the relationship we want for the future. It is the start of creating understanding and a more mature country that can recognise its past, understand its present and plan for its future.

The social media content celebrates a political success for the Indigenous community.

The racism we deal with as part of this campaign is a disruption to our growth as a nation. It is the pollution that randomly appears in the middle conversations we need to have. It is the casual racism that pops up in a social media stream and harms the confidence and self assurance of Indigenous children. Online racism against Indigenous Australians causes ongoing harm, and if we as Australians don’t tackle it, no one else will.

This article has been written by Dr Andre Oboler, is CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute.

Support the campaign

The Online Hate Prevention Institute is Registered Australian Charity that tackles all forms of online hate. Our work is made possible thanks to support and donations from the public.

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Our next campaign will tackle Islamophobia and will run through April. Donations can be made at: https://www.facebook.com/donate/1482889781875332/2874491169294753/

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