The internet as a battleground

September 2, 2011

According to Australia’s outgoing discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes, racism is still a big problem in Australian society.

This is nothing new. Racism has been an issue in Australia since the very beginning of white colonisation, when Aboriginal people were forced from their lands to make way for the new colonial Australia.

But racism, like our society, has changed with the times. This throws up new challenges in tackling it.

Innes recently spoke at the National Press Club about how technology is changing our society. He said: “Developments in technology are welcome... They also have connected the world’s indigenous peoples, as well as ethnic minority groups, in a way they have never been connected before.

“However, they can also be used to cause serious harm. The proliferation of race-hate websites and materials breeds and incites real world hatred. And our cyber-racism complaints have more than doubled in the past couple of years.

“Racism online means that racism in our classrooms, workplaces and communities moves into our pockets and handbags.”

Social networking websites and the spread of other communication technologies has made our communities and society much more connected, but this has also meant it’s easier for racists to network and to spread their views.

This needs to be challenged, but activists need to be careful how we propose to go about doing so.

We should be very wary of censorship. Some people say censorship and laws that restrict people’s ability to spread such sentiments is the only option. While hate speech should not be allowed to go unchallenged, and anti-racists should try to limit the spread of openly racist remarks, censorship doesn’t challenge the attitudes that create these comments in the first place.

Further, censorship can just as often be used against progressive causes, such as when Facebook removed pro-Palestine content from its site or capitulated to homophobia by removing pictures of gay men kissing, both of which happened in March and April this year.

The best thing we can do to challenge online racism and discrimination is to use the internet as a tool to challenge these ideas.

“The Anti-Bogan” is a blog that is an example of this. It posts content that is racist, sexist homophobic or generally intolerant that people have put up on social networking sites.

It exposes it as hateful and baseless, and puts these comments up to broader scrutiny. Racists don’t like it, and frequently flip out when they make the illustrious pages of The Anti-Bogan.

Wear It Purple is another example. It is a support group for queer students, but makes extensive use of the internet to network and reach out to new people.

Through encouraging people to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex youth (who are highly likely to be the target of homophobic bullying), the site helps build support networks for vulnerable youth and give people the confidence to challenge homophobia in their schools and communities.

The internet gives a forum where people can come into contact with Wear it Purple and be encouraged by its activity.

Fundamentally, the internet is a battleground. It’s true that the internet can give racists a public forum to spread their views. This isn't great, but this setback is also a step forward.

The same public forum can be a place where we as anti-racist campaigners can hold racists to account.

When activists use the internet as a forum to challenge backwards ideologies with new and progressive ones, it can help build movements for lasting change.


Dear Ben, I would like to draw the attention of both yourself and of your readers to the Facebook-based group Exposing Racism and Intolerance Online, which for the last two years has closely monitored and scrutinised the Online activity of several UK Far-Right groups, most notably the English Defence League Expose (for short) works simply by monitoring the websites of Far-Right groups, finding and keeping record of posts and statements, etc, that contain problematic material - such as racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and advocation of violence and other sadistic and criminal behavior. The aim is literally to expose the vast gulf between the nature of Far-Right groups and activists and how they wish to present themselves to the public. To date, Expose has been extremely successful at this; collecting over 100,000 pieces of information that are distirbuting via twitter and a blog, but also to relevent journalists, NGOs, community groups, and when necessary the police and security services. The Expose model is one solution to the problem of Far-Right activists finding a haven in the online-world. Many other groups and security agencies are recognising the importance of such a model. All it requires is dedicated individuals wishes to give a few hours of their time, to achieve continuous round-the-clock monitoring. Thus, a problem is turned into a resource - the claims of various far-right groups can be countered with a steady supply of supporting evidence, while potentially violent individuals can be indentified. Expose, for example, was the group that supplied British police with the relevation that the Norwegion mass murderer Anders Breviek was in contact with the EDL. As Expose is based upon facebook and often comes under attack from various Far-Right activists, providing a link would be pointless (the group has been forced to close no less than 30 times, while its members are often the subject of malicious and threatening behaviour). However I can supply a link to the associated blog, as well as an associated twitter account containing many thousands of pieces of information discovered and recorded by Expose. Thanks Jon Michael Nugent (contributor to Expose)

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