Violent Extremism on the rise in Australia

A news story in the Sydney Morning Herald talks about the rise in content on social media promoting violent extremism to Australians, particularly from radical Islamic groups from the UK.

We all have complex identities, each of which comes with a set of values. Members of faith, ethnic or cultural groups share values despite geographic separation across the globe. As Australians we hold many shared values, regardless of our faith, ethnic or cultural affiliations. We negotiate a sense of harmony between these different sets of values and within the norms and laws of the Australian society in which we live. Religious leaders in Australia, of all persuasions, help members of their community negotiate complex and multifaceted identities. The advice, teachings and religious guidance of spiritual leaders in Australia is Australian, and religious leaders who come hear from overseas face a learning curve to fit in and be relevant to their communities. If not, our communities are not shy about rejecting them. The New Year’s message from Australian Muslim leaders, including the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, who said Daesh (ISIS) lies on social media, is not a Muslim message, it is an Australian message.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI) strongly supports the messages against violent extremism coming from Australian Muslim community leaders.  We commend the religious leadership across our many faith communities for their efforts in promoting Australian values, including their work to promote interfaith activities in Australia, and to open those experience which reinforce our values of mutual respect to people of all faiths or none.

Religious messages on social media often come from people outside Australia and with different value sets. Even where a leader is legitimate, and their message relevant in their local context, that doesn’t always make it right for Australia. Add to that the problem of self appointed authorities, leaders from fringe groups well outside the mainstream, and the use of social media by extremists claiming to act in the name of religion, and religious content from unknown sources on social media becomes a minefield.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute encourages Australians looking for spiritual guidance to look to Australian religious leaders who can take into account the Australian context. We welcome religious leaders from abroad who come to Australia, learn about our values and culture and the needs of their community, and minister to them accordingly. We encourage people of all faiths to be careful with online religious content. The literal is not always the best meaning, and the person preaching is not always an expert.

In terms of our own work, one aspect of this is promoting Australian values such as diversity and multiculturalism. We’ll be running such a campaign through Australia Day this year. Our online reporting tool, allows people to report extremism and hate content found on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The system is used by the public to report material which includes preaching promoting hate and violent extremism. Where such content comes from within Australia OHPI shares it with the appropriate authorities. Where it comes from outside Australia and promotes incitement, we share it with social media companies and encourage its removal.

An accompanying story discusses how the Attorney General’s office has been offered a new tool that scrapes Facebook profiles in order to detect who could be potentially radicalised.

Such tools have been used before and they present a number of problems. OHPI’s online hate reporting tool has been built specifically to counter the problems presented by such general data collecting tools that scrape the Internet for information.

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