Reading a hate group’s website is a fascinating endeavour. Seeing how widespread the hatred of Neo-Nazi youth group the Antipodean Resistance is can make someone both alarmed and amused. Their recruitment standards mirror this, from banning “mixed abominations” from their group to, in capital letters not used for racial bans, having a “NO FAGGOTS” policy, perhaps implying that gay people have tried to join the group.
Alt-Right Website the Dingoes is similar in its hatred of certain minorities, though this is hidden behind a less abrasive self-description of “politically-incorrect larrikins”. The group’s articles paint Sudanese women as “negress” women who “routinely abuse our misplaced hospitality in this country” and homosexuality as a “selfish, dangerous and anti-social abberation [sic]”.
The Internet age has allowed hate groups from Australia and abroad to say what they want, but the Online Hate Prevention Institute aims to change that.
The Australian charity, formed in 2012 with the objective of making online hate as socially unacceptable as it is in real life, has set its sights on the same-sex marriage postal vote. It has teamed up with students from Monash University and La Trobe University to develop an online tool for archiving and reporting online hate speech.
The in-progress tool, called CSI-CHAT or Crowd-Sourced Intelligence Cyber Hate and Threats, will allow universities, companies and individuals to report hateful content by submitting a web address and answering a few questions about why the content is hateful or spreading misinformation. The link is automatically archived and can be categorised into different types of discrimination such as antisemitism and homophobia. It can also be compared to other examples of online hate through pie charts. There are plans to allow the content to be reported to social media so that they may be deleted.
Lawrence Macdonald, a tall student at Monash University with a big smile, is the Project Manager of CSI-CHAT. I interviewed him at La Trobe University after a meeting for those involved in the project, including a public relations student tasked with promoting this online tool. Macdonald acknowledged the impact technology has had on hate groups.
“What [the internet] creates is an easy forum [for hate group members] to group together behind an anonymous kind of wall… Go back 50 years or whatever, if people want to get together for whatever, they need to meet up in person, they need to reveal their true identities. I think, for a lot of these people, there’s a lot of shame involved. Being able to go on a website and be basically anonymous as far as a lot of people can tell is quite a powerful tool to be able to go on there and say anything that you want without filtration.”
This is evident in the Antipodean Resistance’s policy of anonymity. In photographs, they stand straight and proud but cover their faces with an image of a skull. When asked for an interview they stated they do not give interviews in person but were happy to do so via email. They, however, claim to be risk-takers.
“We do not want the types of people who are too afraid to stand up for what they believe in,” they said in an email. “We only want people who are willing to stand for the truth despite the potential risks they face.”
Groups such as these are so tough to reach than when I asked for advice on Reddit on contacting white supremacist groups, I was told by user dc_sandshrew, “I would really recommend not dabbling in this stuff if you’re not already versed in it.”
Macdonald then made a point that relates not only to right-wing hate groups but also to hateful activity on the left.
“Technology also has a way of creating echo chambers where you can find a space that someone has created where it’s your views… and then there’s always going to be someone in there who feels more strongly. That resonates with everyone else. People get more strong opinions and it grows… When people validate your views, that’s when you can start thinking, ‘okay, now that that’s fine and good, what I thought before, now what else can I think about?’.”
He is not the only person to criticise the prevalence of echo chambers on the internet. According to a VICE Article on the attempted suicide of Paige Paz, the echo chamber on the social media website Tumblr caused some users to send hate messages and death threats to a young artist because she drew characters from popular cartoon Steven Universe too thin or not racially accurate enough.
This can be seen in Australian politics as well. Threats and other hate messages have been sent to people on both sides of the Australian marriage debate, such as a 14-year-old girl who spoke in favour of same-sex marriage and the women who starred in an advertisement for the no campaign. The CSI-Chat will allow people to submit hate not only from the no campaign but also from the yes campaign.
The developers of the tool and the Online Hate Prevention Institute have not yet received permission from the police to include a button that would report hate to the police. The CEO of the institute, Andre Oboler, has dismissed any potential concerns about free speech being in danger due to CSI-CHAT.
“The only reason there is any freedom of speech is in order to facilitate people’s ability to participate in the democratic process. Therefore, if one was making a demand for freedom of speech which actually undermined people’s ability to participate in democracy, that doesn’t work.”
Oboler brought up how allowing minorities to be targeted inhibits their ability to contribute to political discussion. “Your right to speak does not trump their right to be able to participate.”
He did, however, acknowledge that hate speech laws do not necessarily stop hate groups from forming or continuing. “In terms of the people that are in these groups and the groups themselves, I don’t think it matters what the laws say. We’ve seen that they’re willing to break the law.”
He made reference to the United Patriots Front, a far-right political movement who has some members who have been in trouble with the law before the group was formed. Three members of the group were tried and fined in September this year for inciting serious contempt of Muslims after posting a video of a mock beheading in 2015 to encourage people to protest the building of a mosque in Bendigo.
Oboler told the story of how he saw an online post by a supporter of the United Patriots Front, who was happy that the court case ended the way it did as it, according to Oboler, “gave them something to fight against”.
The reason for Hate Speech laws, as Oboler sees it, is to send a message to regular Australians that hateful behaviour is unacceptable.
Oboler is a professor at La Trobe has been involved in multiple groups and movements such as the Zionist Federation of Australia and the Lancaster District Diversity Festival. His original main focus was antisemitism but he has spread his work to include other forms of hatred and discrimination.
After the interview, he led me to the university’s carpark, a sprawling monstrosity that was easy to get lost in. There were so many ways to go and every direction took many steps, much like the issue of hate groups and how to deal with them.