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Issue #1563      5 September 2012

Racist Facebook page condemned

A racist and offensive Facebook page has been widely condemned by business leaders, human rights advocates, members of the public and the Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Helen Szoke.

The “Aboriginal Memes” page contained images and slogans depicting Aboriginal people as petrol-sniffing, drunk, violent, bludging welfare cheats.

After a huge public outcry, Facebook blurred some of the words but allowed the images to remain. However, after complaints by Dr Szoke and many others, the social media company eventually took down the page. At that time it had more than 2,000 likes.

Alice Springs youth worker Sarsha Pichugin, a Narunga Ngarrindjeri woman, said it was important to speak out about online racism because it continued to marginalise Aboriginal people. “It just needs to stop,” she said.

“We’re all human, we might have cultural differences but we have the same needs and we feel the same pain. These types of things make young Aboriginal people racist against white mob and that’s not what we should be about.

“We have a lot of service providers who are non-Indigenous and these sorts of things make some young Aboriginal people not trust them – and that’s a terrible thing when good work is being done, and trust is lost, because of something someone has done.”

Facebook sent the Koori Mail a statement saying it recognised the public concern the pages had caused.

“We recognise that some content that is shared may be controversial, offensive, or even illegal in some countries. While we do not remove this type of content from the site entirely unless it violates our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, out of respect for local laws, we may restrict access to content that violates local laws,” the statement said.

Memes are a new trend in the world of social media. According to Wikipedia a meme is “an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture” while an internet meme is “used to explain a concept via the internet”.

It can take the form of hyperlinks, pictures, videos, websites or hashtags, or just a word or phrase. At the moment, the most common source for memes are pictures.

Last week Dr Szoke met with Facebook representatives to discuss cyber-racism and alert the company that it may be in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act, which can only be tested if someone brings a complaint.

“They needed to recognise the incredible damage that has been done by these Aboriginal Memes pages, but we also need to be able to move on from this issue,” she said.

“We’re trying to work together with regulators and social media representatives to deal with the issues of social media in Australia, recognising that sites are often hosted overseas.

“The much bigger issue we have to look at is how to regulate that area, how to balance freedom of expression and the right to equality. While the Aboriginal Memes pages have been taken down they were generated on another internet tool that’s still on the internet.

“We need to look at the human rights perspective, to determine whether the current regulatory framework has any gaps. We need to encourage the host organisations to engage with us about what obligations and responsibilities they have under domestic laws, and we need to look at empowering and educating people to use media appropriately and responsibly.”

Dr Szoke said one method of combating cyber-racism and cyber-bullying was to empower witnesses and bystanders to stand up and voice their opposition.

Director of the Board of the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce (AICC) Matthew Tukaki said Facebook should immediately review its policies.

“I find it completely abhorrent that on the very day that we celebrate World Indigenous Peoples Day, which has a focus on enabling Aboriginal and Indigenous people to be more engaged in platforms such as this, we find an act of absurdity being perpetrated by nothing more than a pack of redneck twits,” he said

“The imagery and the comments are more than just offensive and it begs the question that if we don’t demand this page be removed, then what next? Who next? Is it acceptable just to set up a Facebook page and demonise everyone?

“The response from Facebook is one of the biggest cop-outs I have seen to date.

“It is more than about time Facebook reviewed its policies and grew up – they’re not a child any more, they’re a listed company with responsibilities and accountabilities. I suggest that they sit down and take a long, hard, cold look at themselves.

“These scumbags who hide themselves behind anonymity should step out into the light so we can see just exactly who you are as you have so unjustly put pictures of others up.”

After attention was brought to the initial page, Facebook and Twitter was awash with people opposing it, including the page “Make Facebook shut down Aboriginal Memes”.

Once the original page was removed, the author set up a couple of others but many fewer people joined and they too were shut down.

The Koori Mail posted a question on one of the racist pages asking the authors of the page if they really believed what they were doing was funny and acceptable why didn’t they use their real names, but the page was removed before the response could be verified.

The Koori Mail emailed questions to the site on which the racist material was generated – www.memegenerator.net – but did not receive a response.

Koori Mail   

Next article – NSW government attack on public sector

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