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This is hate speech not free speech.

by ROSEMARY LEONARD

Did you see the tumblr post about feminists the other day?

The one that said: “We should rape all feminists. If they want to hate men, let’s at least give them a reason.”

The comments following this post were not complimentary. But the post remains, as far as I know.

And I don’t know what is worse. Seeing that post just sitting there, disguised as a joke, or the thought that there are people out there who think that such a sentiments are funny.

This past week, there has been a hullabaloo on Facebook and out in the bigger wider world, caused by a Facebook page, Aboriginal Memes, dedicated to vilifying Indigenous Australians in a most hateful way.

The Facebook page had a series of pictures of the Aboriginal flag and an Aboriginal elder, accompanied by racist and apparently ‘funny’ phrases that portray Aboriginal people as drunk, addicted to sniffing petrol and reliant on Government hand outs.

It was disrespectful, it was insensitive, it was damaging, it was cruel…. it was, really, so many awful things that’s it’s hard to pin down with just a few words.

It was also shocking that this was an attempt at humour in the year 2012. That there was a person / or some people who created this page for a laugh, and people – hundreds and hundreds of them – who clicked the like button.

For the first time ever, I reported a page to Facebook. I needed directions from someone younger and wiser than me to do it. I negotiated the possible reasons I might want to report this page, and I settled on Hate Speech.

The next morning there was a email from Facebook waiting for me, which said:

“Hi,

Thanks for your recent report of a potential violation on Facebook. After reviewing your report, we were not able to confirm that the specific page you reported violates Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

Learn more about what we do and don’t allow by reviewing the Facebook Community Standards: https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards

Thanks,
Viki

Give us feedback to let us know how we are doing: https://www.facebook.com/survey/take.php?survey_id=242477152482072&cid=422333737810177”

I was shocked. Community Standards?  Rights and Responsibilities? How could this not be a violation when the suggested reading states: “Facebook does not permit hate speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, it is a serious violation to attack a person based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.”

Was this the same Facebook which had gotten its knickers into an unholy twist about breastfeeding?

The same Facebook a friend told me one of her Facebook friends had received a warning from because they had said, on their Facebook page, that they saw God as an energy.

I shot back a short, sharp and disappointed reply and went out and about for my day. But my mind was weighed down with Facebook and what could be done to make the mighty corporation see the error of its ways.

The Aboriginal memes page was removed last week.

Back on the net, I found that the matter of the Aboriginal Meme page had exploded. Many people had reported the page and had received a similar reply to mine. Only they hadn’t spent the day just thinking about it. There were blogs and there were petitions and there were articles in the mainstream media. There were questions being asked about the page breaking Australian laws. Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act was mentioned.

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Facebook was saying nothing out loud and in public.

But then, the Facebook page was removed.

And returned, briefly, as the Abo Memes Page. There was now a couple of words added – Controversial Humor. And some comments defending the right of this page to exist. Comments like this: “These c–ts live off the tax decent white Australians pay every week, I think we have every right to make fun, actually.”

The page was removed again.

Now, while this was all happening, I was alerted to another  Facebook page. This one’s gone now too, I hope.  It began with the page maker’s words of wisdom – expletives have been deleted – that if you didn’t like it you didn’t have to look at it. Simple choice, really. Especially for children.

The first time I opened this page I couldn’t draw a breath until I’d shut it down. I had to steel myself before looking again. This page vilified everyone.  People with disabilities, people with deformities, Holocaust survivors, children, women. Of course, women. I got as far as the meme joking that men should be doing their job properly and upping the percentage of abused women before I got out for good.

Wouldn’t we all love a Facebook ‘dislike’ button.

These are, of course, not the first hate pages to appear on Facebook, and they won’t be the last. Pages shut down will reappear, have no doubt about that. Time will pass, names will change, but they’ll be back.

Because there are people who do not understand equality and that it is not dependant on the way your body’s made or your skin is coloured, the language you use or the traditions you follow.

And these people are not “cured” of their hate and bitterness and vitriol because their page – or a page they “like” – is shut down. It probably fuels their rage.

How have these people happened? What’s missing from our education system, our newspapers, our literature, our sport, our television, our politics, our churches, our streets, our neighbourhoods, our families, our lives?

Something is, because we’ve produced human beings full of the most extraordinary hate speech.

What are we going to do about them? And how can we make sure they don’t happen again?

This report from SBS that was filed after the ACMA announced it would further investigate indigenous hate pages. It shows visuals of the Facebook pages Rosemary references in her post. 

Rosemary took a redundancy 12 months ago after 17 years managing a library in country Victoria. Since then she has travelled to New York, dislocated her shoulder, had surgery, read, gardened, blogged and tweeted.

 Have you ever been or seen someone be subjected to hate speech?

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