All of the page’s content was removed earlier today after repeated complaints to Facebook and after confirmation that the Australian Communications and Media Authority was investigating. Facebook has not deleted the page; it still exists with a classification of ‘‘controversial humour’’.
Facebook prohibits hate speech. Apparently it doesn’t prohibit speech which has the same intent and effect as hate speech- to denigrate and defame an entire social group, in this case 600,000 Australians.
“Genocide is funny” is an interesting editorial standard for the world’s biggest social site. This is the same site that demanded pictures of breast feeding women be removed.
There are legal ramifications, notably under Australia’s Anti-Discrimination and Racial Vilification laws. Facebook could be held accountable under the racial vilification provisions, because Australian aboriginals are clearly targeted subjects.
From the Sydney Morning Herald
Chris Graham of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council said that while Facebook may have a policy on what is and isn't hate speech, "the fact is that Facebook page is illegal". "It is a clear breach of the Racial Discrimination Act. Is Facebook genuinely suggesting it is above the law?"
provides some insights into the grim depths of Aboriginal Memes content:
"How do you kill 1000 flies at once? Slap me in the face," reads one of the photo captions.
The site administrator, posting as Aboriginal Memes, defended the content against a barrage of complaints.
"These c . . ts live off the tax decent white Australians pay every week, I think we have every right to make fun, actually," the comment reads.
Readers please note that The Australian is a login page
Any questions about the purely racially oriented nature of the content? This is one of the most multicultural nations in the world. There are endless groups in Australian society which could be targeted like this, and allowed to get away with it on the basis that site policy overrules national laws. Any other Australian medium, TV, newspapers, magazines, radio or any type of circulated materials could be in a court in seconds for running these materials.
Hate speech, racism and the law
However, it’s not that simple. There are jurisdictional areas and naturally issues of evaluation of complaints. There’s also the question of what’s doable, what’s actionable, and by whom.
I contacted the Attorney General’s department in Canberra to get some information about any official views or reactions to the Facebook page. I should point out that the AG is constrained by the strict requirements for official departmental responses, and they can only say what they’re officially able to say
The AG replied quickly and were also kind enough to get a comment from ACMA, (Australian Communications and Media Authority) the communications regulator for me.
The questions and answers are verbatim:
The Aboriginal Memes materials appear to breach racial vilification laws:
Does the AG have a formal policy position on internet materials of this type?
Is the AG able to take action against Facebook over this issue, and the apparent breach of racial vilification laws?
Does the AG intend to take any specific action against either Facebook or those posting the Aboriginal Memes materials?
Are there any limitations on the AG's ability to prosecute?
• The ACMA investigates online content at specific URLs upon receipt of valid complaints from Australian residents or a body corporate that carries on activities in Australia. Investigations are conducted using powers under schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992.
Attorney-General’s Department spokesman:
• The Racial Discrimination Act prohibits vilification on the basis of race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, with exemptions to ensure that debate can occur freely in respect of matters of legitimate public interest.
• This has the effect of making certain acts unlawful, however an unlawful act is not necessarily a criminal offence.
• The Criminal Code makes it an offence to urge violence against targeted groups or members of targeted groups, intending that force or violence will occur as a result of the urging of violence. Targeted groups are those distinguished by religion, nationality, national or ethnic origin or political opinion. Strict penalties apply in relation to these offences.
• The Criminal Code also makes it an offence to use a carriage service, including the internet, to menace, harass or cause offence. This offence, which carries a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment, has been used in the past to prosecute those who have used Facebook to harass or cause offence to others.
Background from the Attorney-General’s Department.
• Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 provides that it is unlawful for a person to do an act (otherwise than in private) if that act
o is reasonably likely, in all circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or group of people and
o is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.
• The focus of the Racial Discrimination Act is to provide an avenue to make complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission regarding such acts that are racially discriminatory. If the matter is not satisfactorily resolved by the Commission then the matter can be brought before the Australian courts.
I received some further verbal clarification:
It should be noted that bringing before Australian courts is a civil action by an individual or group in racial discrimination cases.
Threats of violence or incitement to violence are criminal offences in Australia.
The AG also advised that any statutory action, if it happened, would be undertaken by the Director of Public Prosecutions, if the Aboriginal Memes materials were to be prosecuted in that way.
You can see the issues for governments and law enforcement created by online hate speech clearly from the answers. We can deduce that no official action has yet been initiated, but the AG was clearly already well aware of the issue when I called their media unit. The materials having been removed, this incident may not proceed to action.
The issues for Australia
Aboriginal Memes strikes at a very sore point in Australian society. The history of Australia’s aboriginals is neither pretty nor simple. The current situation runs the full spectrum from major achievements to truly hideous poverty and related problems. What’s called the “reconciliation process”, supposedly a healing process, has been slowly undoing the damage over a very long time. In the 1960s, a the only referendum in Australian history to get nearly a 100% Yes was the vote to give Aboriginals the vote. Land rights gave the Aboriginals the right to title to their traditional lands.
That said, any step backwards is bad for Australia. There’s a very long way to go before Aboriginal issues are resolved, and any negatives can be highly destructive to the credibility of the reconciliation process. Every incident of real racism simply destroys trust, understandably enough.
There are wider ramifications for Australian society as a whole. We have a lot of different ethnic and religious groups. Some of these groups were enemies in their original countries. Finding a legal loophole for targeting specific groups online could be very nasty indeed.
The page has now been taken down, but the damage was significant. this is a critical case of law vs. hate speech. The amount of hate materials circulating online is enormous. The usual suspects are the “industry” of hate materials. Neo Nazi materials sell millions of dollars’ worth of materials around the world, and other racist groups have got in to their own “merchandising”. Giving these groups a way of promoting themselves is not a great option.
My Australian (sixth generation) view:
“Fair go” doesn’t come with a colour scheme.
Decent blokes don’t beat up on defenceless people.
They don’t make fun of poor people, either.
So you pay taxes. What do you want, a medal?
About 5c or less of your personal tax, per year, goes to Aboriginal aid. You couldn’t buy a beer with it in a generation.
“Living off…” You call that living? Since when?
Gutless attacks on people who can’t hit back are about as un-Australian as you can get. Gutless disqualifies you from being an Aussie by definition.
If you’ve got anything to say to someone, you say it to their faces.
(What I actually did about Aboriginal Memes was to search the images and report them to Google. This is a useful option, because Google will see spikes in complaints about images. This stops the disease from spreading online- To a point, anyway. The more noise you make to the search engines the better, when you see this stuff online.)
Come on Canberra, let’s sort this out. This just isn’t on. We can’t have an international site able to act like this, shelter people breaking our laws and directly attacking our people.
Facebook should also note that it is very much in the firing line, from the law and public opinion and from risks to the site. Any perception that Facebook is "actively doing nothing" is likely to encourage a lot of very unsavory people on to the site. The need is for consistency and awareness of racist issues. It’s not really a question of what Facebook “thinks” is racist or hate speech. These are both statutory and criminal law issues in Australia. Promoting hate is illegal. If a Holocaust denial page existed on Facebook, it’d be taken down ASAP. Aboriginal Memes is no different, and shouldn’t be treated differently.