Cyber or digital racism has been amplified during the COVID19 pandemic.
Pre the internet, if you were a racist – you had a limited methodology to disseminate your idea.
It has never been easier for extremist groups to propagate their hatred through various websites and social media platforms.
Racist content online can be permanently entrenched, disseminated to a broader audience than ever before, and proposes some unique challenges, especially in Australia, where we are excruciatingly slow in addressing legal issues in the cyber abuse arena.
Time after time, Australia has chosen to REFUSE or dither endlessly about including global decision re criminalising racial hatred and the dissemination of hate crimes.
When China and Russia were able to levy criticism at Australia for its rejection of Section 4 at the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a global human rights treaty, we might’ve rethought our path. What was so bad about including Section 4 in our legislation?
Section 4 would criminalise racial hate speech and racist propaganda across international borders.
We could have given the police some framework and allowed the criminal law to make inroads into the worst of online racism.
We made it worse by deciding not to include in our legislation the Council of Europe’s First Additional Protocol, an international instrument to address crimes committed over the internet.
We thought about it but said no. Thus, leaving us limited in the way we work with countries who are signatories to this protocol, which inhibits how we deal with cross border cyber -racism.
The pattern continues. Australia is way behind more progressive nations such as New Zealand and Canada.
There is a regulatory hole that Australian governments will NOT deal with.
To quote Gail Mason and Natalie Czapski, ” On Regulating Cyber Racism in Australia.”
There is no comprehensive system for expressly denouncing and remedying the harm of cyber-racism by offering an efficient and accountable process for removing harmful material, backed by a mechanism of enforcement.
Australia has chosen to accept that racial vilification is an acceptable practice, to be defended by hiding behind the right to freedom of speech. ( JAKUBOWICZ 2017), and technology has expanded the effect of hatred on ethnic and Aboriginal communities.
Australia remains the only Western Democracy without a legislative Bill to protect our Human Rights.
“The only national laws relating to racial vilification are civil (the criminal law deals with actual violence), and seek to bring about conciliation between the aggrieved parties and the perpetrators. The legal framework has limited reach, while in 2013 and again in 2017, the national government, arguing that the current protections were a breach of free speech, tried unsuccessfully to remove some of the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act that give offended parties pathways to seek protection from vilification.12.
The Cyber Racism and Community Resilience (CRaCR) group have argued that Australia needs at the very least to adopt legislation similar to New Zealand’s Harmful Digital Communications legislation34, which requires publishers of racist material to respond to bona fide complaints from the community and remove the material.15 It also empowers prosecutions by the state of those who deliberately create and post seriously harmful material. While there is a recognised defence in freedom of speech, the notion of harm in the digital world advances the linking of the real and digital worlds, especially in societies where racial tensions may exist and where the inflaming of such tensions can undermine safety more widely.” (Cyber Racism and What Can Be Learnt from Australia https://bit.ly/2BFaYIc)
Except for Western Australia, we have no criminal liability for racial hate speech.
The Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 Australia has been said by Andrew Jakubowicz
“to effectively exclude from national jurisdiction any criminal liability for race hate speech, and its communication.
In each case, conservatives and libertarians joined in common cause to prevent criminal law restricting freedom of speech and communication. Thus, nearly half a century after the advent of UN Convention, the expression of racism in cyberspace (and hate speech more widely) have only been prosecuted by the police in Western Australia; elsewhere in the states and the Commonwealth a raft of differing constraints in the civil sphere remain operative, with a limited criminal sanction, or as untested propositions that have not been prosecuted.”
Australia has gained dubious renown for a lengthy civil racial vilification trial. This is worth recounting briefly for exposing the sheer difficultly a private individual could expect in an attempt to pursue these matters through civil courts.
Described as the Toben Case, it involved a long-time holocaust denier previously jailed in Germany for his vicious anti- Semitic propaganda. Toben is a Holocaust denier.
When Toben published an advertisement in The Australian in 1996 announcing his website’s existence – discussing at length his Truth about the Holocaust, he rightly drew the ire of the ECAJ ( The Executive Council of Australia Jewry).
Amendments to the Racial Vilification Act in] 1996, allowing civil protection to be included to enable offended parties to be able to seek redress, opened the door for a challenge. Given the now AHRC may only make conciliation and will not pursue legal redress or support civil cases, a court battle began after the unenforceable recommendation from a public inquiry in 1998 that the content is removed and Toben apologise.
Toben’s series of false promises, Federal Court involvement, appeals by Toben and repeated losses in court, contempt of court charges, and more false assurances from Toben that dragged on till he was jailed for contempt of court for his lies and failure to remove the offending material.
The ECAJ attorney was relentless – accepting no money and spending hundreds of hours pursuing Toben and his website.
A promise from Toben was made in 2009 to remove the content, and eventually, the material comes down from his website in 2009. Still, his contempt of court charges continued, and on till in 2011, he reached the point of bankruptcy, and his offensive website changed hands to a new owner. Fifteen years in and out of court, with no real result. To remove material denying the Holocaust.
What do we see in Australia in 2020? A lot more online racism.
A Tik Tok account is removed following a media inquiry initiated by NITV news, who has repeatedly reported said account for racism. The account had more than 29 thousand followers.
One of these exceedingly popular videos was one of an Aboriginal child. Writing over the image said, “Run a*o run. References were made to sending Aboriginal people to the Gulag, forced labour camps set up by Stalin and far, far worse.
There were multiple complaints delivered to Tik Tok, but it took far too long for the account to be removed. The platform itself is almost too big to respond appropriately, allowing the content to spread even further.
Educational accounts run by Aboriginal individuals on the platform attract swathed of unwanted abuse for the travesty of trying to teach the population of our country to understand the Aboriginal experience and history. ( Tallulah Brown is an example of this.)Tik Tok does not moderate this abuse.
Alternatively, read this article – to learn about the creators of the content.
The current scientific determinations are that our global pandemic originated in China.
Kung Flu, Wu Flu, The China Virus – you’ve heard it. And so has our Asian community. Loudly, violently and widely.
Diversity Arts Australia conducted a racism study concerning Covid-19 in Australia.
Called “I am not a Virus,” the survey is still open ad will remain so as the results are continually updated. Over 81% of respondents from the Asian community out of 326 responses as of May 2020, state the racist incident they experienced was a result of Coivd19. Take a look.
It makes for depressing reading and offers some resources for those attacked.
Who is responsible for TikTok?
The perpetrators of this online racism are not always the usual suspects. As Tik Tok rockets into the stratosphere of the user’s courtesy of the pandemic, it is students that are driving a large percentage of this content, and they are more prone than most to MAKE racist videos and posts.
Half of all Tik Tok users are aged between 16 and 24. That’s roughly 400 million people.
The kids are not all right.
In the USA this year, Carrollton High school saw two students expelled following a disgraceful clip stereotyping Black people and adding derogatory slurs. Due to the easy nature of sharing on Tik Tok, the video was then amplified on Twitter.
A Tik Tok challenge in 2020,(problems being part of the platforms regular features) titled “How’s my form” resulted in a cascade of stereotypes spanning the entire Black community, the Asian community and the Muslim community and even suicide suggestions are tying the whole mess up into a neat bow of the worst parts of social media.
The app is trying. Years of issues with racism, including a healthy cohort of Neo-Nazi’s running rampant on the platform, have forced it to act.
Its community standards have been changed, issuing more forceful statements about discrimination, hate speech, and incitements to violence but admits this challenge is one the industry as a whole is struggling to address.
Facebook has a massive issue with this, so does/did Reddit – who took steps to limit the number of accounts on June 29 this year, fifteen years after its launch to ban groups that incite violence or promote hate based on identity or vulnerability.
All eyes on Facebook and the service providers that allow toxic websites to proliferate.
Change cannot happen fast enough in this space, and our government needs to stop dragging its collective heels. We need modifications to our legislation to enable easier access to global solutions, criminal charges for some circumstances and action from more social media companies to stamp out this horror show.
Cyber or digital racism is an enormous challenge.
Australia needs to be a full participant in the overseas discussion on how to address this challenge.