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Cyber racism a rising challenge

19 October 20170 comments

Racism is growing on the internet with aboriginal groups and Muslims among the major victims, according to new research.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has reported that more than a third of racial complaints in 2009-10 were concerned with internet racism and VicHealth has identified cyber-racism as a key priority for its program on racism and well- being.

With Australia having one of the highest proportional uses of social media in the western world and with Australian internet users spending the most time visiting social networks and blogs, Australians are potentially more exposed to cyber-racism than residents of other countries.

Now, a new book which analyses on-line hate pages and groups has revealed the full extent of cyber-racism.

Titled ‘Cyber Racism and Community Resilience’, the book reveals that although a relatively small number of people create race hate, many more ‘like’ or enable it.

Lead author Professor Andrew Jakubowicz says online racism is doing huge damage.

“The use of the internet and social media to spread race hate is very extensive. And because it’s online it makes it seem normal, cool and funny to disrespect people because of their race,” he said.

“And online it’s easy to use fake news about groups based on their race to push an agenda and these days it is hard to know what is true and what is not.

“On current trajectories all of the major corporations operating on the internet – like Google and Facebook – don’t seem particularly concerned about the damage being done,” said Prof Jakubowicz, speaking at the recent Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) conference in Darwin.

“The internet emerged in an uncontrolled and unregulated way by people who – for good reasons – wanted to keep it free from government regulation,” Prof Jakubowicz said.

“But now the algorithms designed to make it as impossible as possible to constrain or control the internet is protecting people who are peddling race hate and government are reluctant to intervene,” he said.

Prof Jakubowicz said there was nothing globally that could offset the power of the two big players on the internet.

“There is no global civil society organisation that can challenge the power of the corporations. What you have is the political economy cyberspace that is dominated by two large players.

“For racism to be addressed is not hard what is hard is to challenge the fundamental algorithms that allow it to flourish on the internet,” he said.

The book, which includes the results of a survey of 2500 Australians using the internet found that the prevalence of racism was high.

It found platforms most likely to lead to exposure to racism were Facebook, online news commentary, and YouTube. While the platforms least likely were Twitter and email.

The book said the most common forms of responding to racism were within the platform; for example reporting the content and blocking or de-friending the author. It also said a quarter of those who had been targets of racism were able to laugh it off.

Aboriginals are a focus of cyber racism in Australia followed by Middle Eastern and Muslim Australians, the book reported.

“Although racism online feels like an insurmountable problem, there are legal and civil actions we can take right now in Australia to address it,” Prof Jakubowicz said.

“Racism expressed on social media sites provided by Facebook and the Alphabet stable (which includes Google and YouTube) ranges from advocacy of white power, support of the extermination of Jews and the call for political action against Muslim citizens because of their faith,” he said.

“At the heart of the problem is the clash between commercial goals of social media companies (based around creating communities, building audiences, and publishing and curating content to sell to advertisers), and self-ascribed ethical responsibilities of companies to users.

“Although some platforms show growing awareness of the need to respond more quickly to complaints, it’s a very slow process to automate.

“Australia should focus on laws that protect internet users from overt hate, and civil actions to help balance out power relationships.” Prof Jakubowicz said.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist