Facebook's racist blunder

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Michelle Starr is the tiger force at the core of all things. She also writes about cool stuff and apps as CNET Australia's Crave editor. But mostly the tiger force thing.

Facebook exploded yesterday, with users angrily reporting a page called "Aboriginal Memes" that makes racist "jokes" about Australia's indigenous people.

(Credit: Facebook; CBSi)

The page, which has over 4000 Likes, shows pictures of Aboriginal people with supposedly "funny" captions that reference petrol and begging.

In spite of reports pouring in from angry users, though, Facebook's response was to do just enough to show that it doesn't actually care.

After 5pm GMT +10, Facebook started emailing reporters with the following message:

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.

However, the Facebook Community Standards document clearly 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.

At approximately 9.30pm GMT +10, Facebook removed any posts linking to the page, and the page itself disappeared — only to reappear around two hours later, with its name changed to "[Controversial Humor] Aboriginal Memes".

The page may also be committing an offence in Australia under Part II, Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975:

Offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin

1. It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

After telling users who reported the page to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) yesterday that Facebook was outside of its jurisdiction, the regulatory body has now launched an investigation.

An ACMA spokesperson told SBS News today:

The ACMA is currently investigating specific URLs that contain the online content noted in the SBS story after receiving a complaint yesterday. The ACMA investigates online content upon receipt of valid complaints from Australian residents or a body corporate that carries on activities in Australia. Investigations are conducted using powers under schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992.

Facebook has not yet responded to CNET Australia's request for comment.

Updated at 1.29pm GMT +10: The ACMA's statement added.

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EliotP posted a comment   

There is a HUGE difference between making fun of (privileged) white people and a disempowered demographic of Australia suffering from indentured poverty, a history of genocide and denial of suffrage.
There is also a difference between stereotypes that are quaint (Apu from the Simpsons) and those aimed at denigrating a minority. It's the lowest, most despicable and cowardly form of racism.


AllanC1 posted a comment   

Who cares? The Australian memes pokes fun at Australians too. As an Australian I can see it's a joke. I mean i live just up the road from Warritah.


ebaaan posted a reply   

Don't know if I would quite describe the dribble I read on that page as "poking fun" at indigenous Australians.


TimA3 posted a comment   

I reported the page'**** Allawis"**** Bashir al-Asad and the Alawite people **** the Alawite religion") and Facebook replied: "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"

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