Facebook accused of not removing hate speech in complaint under Australia’s racial discrimination laws


The Australian Muslim Advocacy Network alleges the social media giant allows ‘anti-Islam’ pages to host hateful content about Middle Eastern, African, South Asian and Asian people

Facebook is facing a complaint under Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act that the company is not doing enough to moderate against hate speech.

The Australian Muslim Advocacy Network (Aman) announced on Wednesday it had lodged a complaint under sections nine and 18(c) of the act with the Australian Human Rights Commission over what the group says is Facebook’s failure to rein in hateful speech on its platform.

The complaint alleges Facebook allows pages that state they are “anti-Islam” but host hateful content about Middle Eastern, African, South Asian and Asian people.
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Guardian Australia understands the organisation had been in discussions with Facebook about its policy for a year, and the source of frustration that led to the complaint from the organisation was the need to report violating content themselves, rather than Facebook proactively removing it.

“Our concern is that Facebook only takes action when the community does the heavy lifting in documenting the violations and is prepared to escalate through media,” Aman adviser Rita Jabri-Markwell said in a statement.

“Our community has experienced many attacks on mosques, as well as on individuals and families going about their lives.

“But it’s not only Muslims who are affected. Research has clearly shown anti-Muslim populist movements online have been the predominant force behind the growth in rightwing extremism.”

Facebook’s hate speech policy bans attacks on people based on protected characteristics – such as religion, race, gender or sexuality – but allows attacks and criticisms of ideas about those protected characteristics, so pages criticising religion are allowed.

“We do not allow hate speech on Facebook and regularly work with experts, non-profits and stakeholders to help make sure Facebook is a safe place for everyone, recognising anti-Muslim rhetoric can take different forms,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We have invested in AI technologies to take down hate speech, and we proactively detect 97% of what we remove.”

Facebook said in its last community standards enforcement report that in 2020, the company increased the amount of content removal on hate speech by 400%, with 97.1% of hate speech content removed automatically without it being reported by users.

Most recently, Facebook allows all pages and profiles to turn off comments on posts – however, that is up to the administrator of the page or profile to decide.

Once a complaint is lodged with the Australian Human Rights Commission, the president of the commission can investigate the complaint and seek to resolve it through conciliation. If the complaint is not resolved it can be taken to the federal court.

Conservative politicians have fought for nearly a decade to repeal parts or all of section 18(c) of the act, which makes unlawful any act that offends, insults, humiliates or intimidates someone because of their race. The News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt was found to have breached the act in 2011.


Facebook is facing a complaint under Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act accusing it of not doing enough to combat hate speech on its platform. Photograph: Dado Ruvić/Reuters

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