Online abuse: ‘It’s so common it’s almost banal’

TABsmhnsw

June 26, 2016 – 12:15AM

Rachel Olding

Reporter

Mariam Veiszadeh is regularly sent abusive messages on social media. Photo: Supplied

Each time Mariam Veiszadeh gets a death threat, she does a cost-benefit analysis.

The online abuse is so frequent that the lawyer and anti-Islamophobia advocate wouldn’t get any work done if she reported it all to police.

“I think about the consequences of reporting, the time and effort that goes into it, the psychological impact it has on me to pursue these matters, the potential outcome and whether it’s all worth it,” she said.

Trina Pania Hohaia was fined $1000 for using a carriage service to offend. Photo: Facebook

But just before midnight one night last July, a message landed in her Facebook inbox that she didn’t ignore

“Watch as we come for you in your sleep cut your throat as you do the animals you torment,” it said. “Kill your family for you to see. Kill your uncle which is now your husband slash grand f—er.. I will find you and hunt you down.”

In one of very few cases of online abuse that are prosecuted, Trina Pania Hohaia, a 38-year-old mother from Guildford, was convicted in her absence in Hornsby Local Court in September. The Reclaim Australia supporter, whose name and image were visible on her profile, was fined $1000.

An abusive post sent to Mariam Veiszadeh by Trina Pania Hohaia. Photo: Supplied

Online abuse has become pervasive yet the number of criminal convictions cover a mere fraction of the hateful material flung around the world wide web.

Figures provided to Fairfax Media show charges for using a carriage service to menace, harass or offend – the antiquated piece of legislation that online abuse falls under – have doubled in five years.

Last year, there were 1111 convictions from 1585 charges in NSW although the figures are not broken down by web or telephone threats. The most common punishment was a fine of about $700, far from the maximum prison term of three years.

Zane Alchin pleaded guilty to sending rape and death threats to Paloma Brierley Newton and others. Photo: Nick Moir

This week, two high-profile cases ended in guilty pleas. Central Coast chiropractor and former Liberal Party member Chris Nelson, 64, admitted to posting racist abuse on the Facebook page of Indigenous politician Nova Peris, and 25-year-old labourer Zane Alchin admitted to a torrent of rape and death threats sent to a group of Sydney women.

However, three in five Australian adults say they have been the target of online abuse and harassment, a 2015 RMIT study found.

“When I started research in this area, you had to go out of your way to find online abuse. Now it’s so bad, you have to go out of your way to avoid it,” Emma A. Jane, a UNSW academic conducting a three-year study into online misogyny, said.

Lucy Le Masurier, Paloma Brierley Newton, and Ollie Henderson set up Sexual Violence Won’t Be Silenced after Zane Alchin sent them abusive messages. Photo: Janie Barrett

“It’s become a lingua franca online. If you don’t agree with a woman, you send a rape threat or tell her she’s too ugly to rape. It’s so common it’s become almost banal.”

The internet, particularly social media, has brought empowerment and opportunity but it has quickly become a double-edged sword.

Eight-five per cent of women told the United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development last year that the internet provides them with more freedom, yet 73 per cent said they had been abused online.

Zane Alchin leaving the Downing Centre Local Court this week. Photo: Nick Moir

Anti-semitic and anti-Muslim abuse take up the lions share of reports made to the Online Hate Prevention Institute’s Fight Against Hate. Misogynistic and homophobic abuse follow closely behind.

OHPI chief executive Andre Oboler said social media had amplified and emboldened pre-existing bigotry.

“People who feel isolated, who may have racist views but keep it to themselves because the people around them don’t support it, will easily find people who agree with them online so suddenly their inhibition drops,” he said.

While the internet’s veil of anonymity allowed a culture of abuse to develop, both Alchin and Nelson posted abuse under their own profiles. It has “become normalised to the extent … people seem quite happy to do it under their own names now,” Dr Jane said.

This is fuelled by the perception there will be no real-world consequences, she said.

Only 10 per cent to 20 per cent of offensive content reported to Facebook and Twitter is removed, OHPI found, and the impacts can be detrimental.

A father who used Facebook to post messages of support for refugees told Fairfax Media that hateful responses from far right groups over the past 18 months escalated to phone calls to his wife. Fake profiles and offensive memes with his image have been spread online. He fears it will affect his future job prospects and his family’s safety.

The 47-year-old, who asked for his name to be withheld, said he was laughed out the door when he reported it to Hobart police. “But in the same breath they said they get a lot of Facebook-related suicides,” he said.

Of the 50 women Dr Jane has interviewed, none had a satisfactory response when they reported online abuse to local police. Some were told to take a break from Facebook or to change their profile picture to “something less attractive”.

Paloma Brierley Newton, the subject of Alchin’s abuse, was initially turned away by Newtown police. She had stepped in to defend a friend whose profile from the dating app Tinder was being shamed on Facebook for being too provocative.

It was only when she set up an advocacy group with her friends, Sexual Violence Won’t Be Silenced, and went to the media that police became interested.

She hopes to introduce training to all local police stations, where cases of online abuse are investigated.

Assistant Commissioner Gary Worboys, corporate spokesman for victims of crime, said victims of online threats “can and should expect the complaint to be taken seriously”.

“While there is no … legislation in Australia that is specifically for cyber bullying, there are existing laws police use,” he said.

While prosecutions are important, Dr Jane said we needed to address the reasons why people posted abuse.

“We’re still a long way from cultivating a culture of accountability online,” she said. “There have been massive institutional failures at the level of corporations, social media platforms, police and policy makers.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Police hunt Logan anti-Islam abuser who exposed backside to woman

brisbanetimes2

September 24, 2015 – 1:14PM

Kim Stephens Journalist

A Muslim woman told police she was subjected to a sustained anti-Islamic tirade outside a Logan shopping centre on Wednesday, during which time she captured the man on video baring his backside at her and her two young children.

The woman reported the incident to the Islamophobia Register Australia, an online site dedicated to exposing incidents of anti-Islamic abuse, after saying two calls to police for help went unanswered.

Site organiser Mariam Veiszadeh said she spoke to the angered woman in the wake of the attack, who told her the tirade continued for more than half an hour, during which time her calls to police were not responded to.

The man police are searching for over a sustained anti-Islam tirade on a Logan woman. Photo: Supplied

At the urging of Ms Veiszadeh, an advocate for Australian Muslims and a lawyer, the woman then went to Logan police to report the abuse in person.

A Queensland Police Service spokesman said police attended the shopping centre car park after the second call but could not locate the woman.

They are now searching for the man.

A still from the video taken by a Muslim woman at a Logan car park on Wednesday. Photo: Supplied

The woman told Daily Mail Australia the man hurled multiple obscenities at her, accusing her of terrorism and being unemployed, as she sat in her car waiting for her husband with her two children, aged five and eight.

She was wearing a niqab, which exposed only her eyes.

The German woman, a teacher, converted to Islam 16 years ago, Ms Veiszadeh said.

The man police are searching for. Photo: Supplied

“She felt the need to continue to explain to me, ‘I can’t believe he said I’m unemployed and makes such assumptions – I’m an educated woman, I’m a teacher,'” Ms Veiszadeh said.

“She responded to him by saying, ‘I am not unemployed and I am European’.

“Something that really angered her was that the hatred had so many stereotypical assumptions embedded in it.

Mariam Veiszadeh. Photo: hpitt@fairfaxmedia.com.au

“She also made reference to her stepson being in the ADF and he puts his life at risk for Australians to fight for this country and yet she gets racist and Islamophobic abuse hurled at her on the streets.”

Ms Veiszadeh said the woman had also been upset that a number of witnesses did not intervene to stop the abuse.

“It’s quite concerning when this man was clearly abusing her, no one came to her defence,” Ms Veiszadeh said.

“People sitting in the front were indifferent or went along with it and it was only after he left people approached her.

“I appreciate Logan police station had serious matters to deal with but this is yet another example of complaints regarding an assault targeting an Australian Muslim woman not being taken seriously by authorities.”

Ms Veiszadeh said women wearing the visible symbols of their faith were increasingly bearing the brunt of racist and Islamophobic public attacks, often in the presence of children.

“It’s incredibly worrying that the vast majority of reports being submitted to the Register are of verbal and physical abuse directed at Australian Muslim women, with a large number happening in the presence of young children,” she said.

“This woman is particularly concerned about the devastating impact this incident has had on her children. How do you even begin to explain Islamophobia to your five-year-old child?”

 

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Inescapable racism: Reflections of a ‘proud refugee’

abcreligionandethics

ABC Religion and Ethics

Mariam Veiszadeh

16 Apr 2013

mariam8 In the wake of the latest racist tirade on a Melbourne train and the tragic loss of life when a boat carrying asylum seekers sank off the coast of Indonesia, I copped some unprovoked abuse on Twitter on Friday evening: “Wish your refugee boat had sunk at sea, bitch.”

mariam1a

Once I had recovered somewhat from the shock of receiving the tweet, I checked the @GregJessop1 Twitter profile which, among other things, indicated that he was an Engineer based in Queensland and worked for Rio Tinto (although his profile did bear the standard Twitter disclaimer, “Opinions mine, do not reflect views of Rio Tinto”). Determined not to stoop to his level, my immediate response to him was, “Lucky for you, I came by plane.”

It was perhaps ironic that, only hours earlier, I had tweeted: “If you witness a racist rant on public transport, don’t remain silent. Speak up if it’s safe to do so. Silence condones #racist behaviour.” I was deeply moved by the actions of Mahmood Reza, an Australian Muslim man who stood up to a drunken woman who was racially abusing a packed Melbourne train last week. I found the incident, which was captured on a passenger’s phone and reported to media, deeply disturbing. How many similar incidents occur on public transport throughout Australia, but go unreported?

Not long after receiving the tweet, I (along with many others) tried to contact Rio Tinto by means of Twitter to bring this matter to their attention. Whether the Twitter profile of @GregJessop1 was fictitious or he did in fact work for Rio Tinto was almost irrelevant – surely he couldn’t get away with making such hateful, vile, almost threatening comments and still have references to Rio Tinto in his profile.

There have been countless victims of social media abuse, Charlotte Dawson being a notable example. Dawson’s online tormentors drove her to become suicidal. In many cases, these unidentifiable Twitter trolls are never held to account because they are untraceable. In my case, @GregJessop1 volunteered information about Rio Tinto in his Twitter profile and I used this information as a legitimate means to hold him, and people like him, to account.

@GregJessop1 was clearly rattled by all the attention his offending tweet had generated. He deleted the tweet and then tried to suggest that I photoshopped the screen shot of the offending tweet.

mariam3

But what baffled me most was his response to someone who questioned how Rio Tinto would feel about his hateful tweets: “at work, I’m on work time and $. If they want me to be respectful, so be it. On my time, i’ll do as I please.”

mariam6

I was also subsequently advised by others on Twitter that I should have the phrase “proud Aussie” in my Twitter profile, rather than “proud Refugee.” I use this phrase in my profile, not because I am an ungrateful Aussie, but because I want to demonstrate that refugees are educated and active participants in our community. Ultimately, I want to help change perceptions. Moreover, if my actions don’t demonstrate my gratitude, how would a label somehow do the trick? And why must I assert my level of Australianness every minute of the day? Excessive pride and racial hate speech should be viewed in the same manner – both are entirely unnecessary, really.

Since Friday, I’ve been overwhelmed by messages of support and compassion, and indeed by offers from strangers to help me. For every instance of abuse, there are many expressions of compassion and solidarity. Perhaps the one that has meant the most to me was from former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser: “I am deeply sorry you had to experience that, some people are so insensitive and stupid, try not to let worry you.”

mariam7

Mr Fraser, of course has been especially vocal in recent times and spoken out about the plight of asylum seekers – if only some of our incumbent politicians shared and expressed his same convictions!

Yesterday afternoon, I received a response from Rio Tinto, as well as a call from their media representative, who assured me that they had commenced their investigations on Friday evening. It is comforting to know that an organisation like Rio Tinto would never condone such behaviour.

Irrespective of whether he is a mere Twitter troll or an actual Rio Tinto employee, the attitude of @GregJessop1 is indicative of a deeper malaise in this wonderful country of ours: a high level of low level racism, a form of racism Waleed Aly has described as “subterranean racism.” I used to think that on social media people were more inclined to make irrational and utterly vile comments under the cover of false identities than they would in person, in real situations. But the recent racial rants on public transport which has been reported in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and even Canberra disprove this theory.

But this begs the question: what is the root cause of this type of hateful bigotry? Wherever this bigotry stems from, there is little doubt that the current and thoroughly toxic political debate which wilfully demonises asylum seekers is fuelling it. There have been hundreds of op-eds written by advocates across the political spectrum criticising the character of political debate about asylum seekers, and there is nothing I can recount here that hasn’t been written many times before: that, compared to other refugee-hosting countries, Australia receives a very small number of asylum applications and we are in no danger of being “swamped”; or that we are a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and are in breach of Article 31 every time we load men, women and children onto a bus at Christmas Island and then transport and “detain” them for an indefinite period of time; or that the countless health-care professionals have advised that indefinite detention leads to irreparable mental damage and ultimately, in some cases, to suicide. But we have all heard that before.

Australia’s refugee policy is symptomatic of a political preparedness to pander to short-term electoral interest over tenable long-term planning, much less humanitarian concern. With a federal election looming and an incumbent government needing to pull a political rabbit out the hat, it is hard to see how things could improve – indeed, the likelihood is that the politicking at the expense of asylum seekers will only get worse.

But our politicians’ nonsensical and frequently inhumane remarks about asylum seeker policy are partly, if not largely, based on what they believe Australians want. If the brutal logic of deterrence, of “stopping the boats,” wasn’t a vote-winner and didn’t represent an advantage in the opinion polls, surely the political discourse would be different. We, my friends, are part of the problem. It’s time to become part of the solution.

Mariam Veiszadeh is a lawyer, writer and Welcome to Australia ambassador.

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