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


June 26, 2016 – 12:15AM

Rachel Olding


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.”













Racist rant on train – and its aftermath


Woman issued transport infringement after racist rant

Kate Aubusson and Rachel Olding

May 7, 2015 – 8:46PM

A woman who was filmed allegedly verbally abusing a Muslim couple on a Sydney train last month has been issued with a rail infringement notice by police.

The 70-year-old Lisarow woman was issued the infringement notice for behaving “in an offensive manner” on a public train, Police Transport Command said in a statement released Thursday night.

Offensive behaviour carries a maximum fine of $1100.


The woman who allegedly abused Hafeez Ahmed Bhatti and his wife. Photo: Supplied


Read more

The original story

Racist rant on Sydney train caught on video, passenger defends Muslim woman from tirade

By Mohamed Taha


Video shows racist rant on Sydney train (ABC News)

A video that captures the moments a Muslim woman was the subject of a racist verbal attack on a Sydney train has been viewed nearly 80,000 times.

The video was recorded on a phone by Stacey Eden, 23, who can be heard telling the older woman to stop disrespecting the Muslim woman who was with her husband and wearing a headscarf at the time.

Ms Eden, a pathology worker, told the ABC she was catching a train home to Mascot on the Airport Line at around 1:40pm on Wednesday afternoon.

She said she noticed a group of people enter the train, particularly a man and woman wearing a scarf with a baby.

At that point she said an old lady walked over and started speaking to them.

“I was just listening to my music,” Ms Eden said.

“The old lady actually bent over and touched the lady’s scarf while she was talking.

“I didn’t think anything of it.”

Verbal abuse made reference to Islamic State

Ms Eden said she noticed the old woman was verbally abusing the couple, who said nothing.

“The lady next to me was saying things like ‘all the people that were dying were because of the Muslims in the world and look what’s happening overseas’,” she said.

Stacey Eden stood up for a Muslim woman who was verbally abused on a Sydney train

Photo: Stacey Eden intervened on a Sydney train when a Muslim woman was verbally abused. (Supplied: Facebook)

Ms Eden said the woman continued by saying: “Read the newspapers, why are you following this religion for, why do you wear things like that so you can marry a man who’s going to go marry a 6-year-old?”

“I was like ‘this isn’t right, why are you saying these kinds of things?'”

In the video, Ms Eden can be heard telling the old woman to leave the other woman’s dress alone.

“She wears it for herself, OK,” she said in the video.

“She wears it because she wants to be modest with her body, not because of people like you who are going to sit there and disrespect her.”

The older woman can be heard mentioning beheadings, the Sydney siege and suggesting the woman was an “ISIS supporter”.

Ms Eden said she got angry and started recording the incident.

“She was picking on her for the way she was dressed and that’s what really got to me,” she said.

“This lady that was sitting across from me wearing a scarf, she was minding her own business, she never said anything out of line, she never even spoke.

“That’s why I decided to say something because it just made me really angry and upset.”
Police encourage victims of racial abuse to come forward

Ms Eden said she missed her Mascot stop to make sure the couple felt safe and once she saw them get off at the International Airport stop, she got off at Wolli Creek.

“I was actually worried about what was going to happen,” she said.

“I stayed on the train for a few more stops just to make sure everything was going to be OK.

“As they got off they thanked me.”

The victim’s husband, Hafeez Ahmed Bhatti, posted a thank you message on Facebook which said: “This video was not made by me. That is what happened to us on a Sydney train, God bless Stacey Eden she supported us”.

Facebook screenshot of racist rant victim Photo: The husband of the woman who was verbally abused posted a thank you message on Facebook. (Supplied: Facebook)

Ms Eden said she felt compelled to stand up because no one else was doing anything.

“I just felt like if no one said anything, it was just going to keep going, so I had to say it,” she said.

“People like that are just very ignorant. They’re never going to listen to what you say.

“I didn’t want to cause an argument or have a confrontation, I just wanted her to stop talking just so she wouldn’t keep making them feel bad about themselves.”

A New South Wales police spokesman told the ABC they would review the video footage.

“NSW Police is aware of an incident which occurred on at train travelling on the Airport, Inner West and South line involving alleged racial vilification yesterday,” a spokesman said.

“The Police Transport Command is reviewing a video posted online in an effort to identify the alleged offender.”

Police said they had not received a report of the alleged assault and were encouraging the victims to come forward.

“We encourage anyone who is the victim of a biased motivated crime to report the matter to local police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000,” they said.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane from the Australian Human Rights Commission said the video was “inexcusable”.

“It’s always disappointing to see people being subjected to harassment or abuse in public places,” he said.

“There’s simply no excuse to be abusing people or to be harassing people because of their religious beliefs or their racial background.”

Dr Soutphommasane said it was encouraging to see Ms Eden stand up to the discrimination.

“It’s always encouraging to see people respond to racism or bigotry,” he said.

“If it’s safe to do so, people should feel free to speak out against abuse or harassment.

“By speaking up, we send a powerful message that we don’t accept or condone bigotry and racism


Unlikely feminist hero: Army chief’s video message draws plaudits


June 14, 2013 – 11:32AM

Rachel Olding


In full: Army chief's scathing warning
 Chief of Army David Morrison sends a stern warning to Australia's armed forces on Thursday regarding unacceptable behaviour.

His organisation is in the midst of yet another internet sex scandal but the Chief of Army, Lieutenant-General David Morrison, has emerged as the unlikely poster boy for feminism.

If that does not suit you then get out

Following revelations of further “demeaning, explicit and profane” behaviour by his army members, the tough-talking army chief released a powerful video message on Thursday night telling defence members who degrade women: “We don’t want you.”

Steely stare: Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The three-minute “smack down” has earned him the tag of “feminist hero” on social media and even suggestions that he should run for prime minister.

With a steely death stare, General Morrison vowed to ruthlessly rid the army of sexist men and told defence members to “find something else to do with your life” if they couldn’t uphold the values of the organisation.

“No one has ever explained to me how the exploitation or degradation of others enhances capability or honours the traditions of the Australian Army,” he says in the video posted on the Department of Defence website.

“Those who think that it is OK to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this army.”

“On all operations, female soldiers and officers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian Army. They are vital to us maintaining our capability now and into the future.

“If that does not suit you then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behaviour is acceptable but I doubt it.”

The video was posted on YouTube, where it quickly amassed thousands of views and more than 300 comments.

It followed a week of accusations of misogyny, including an attack by Prime Minister Julia Gillard on the Coalition’s ranks of “men in blue ties”, the emergence of a menu comparing Ms Gillard’s body to a cooked quail and the suspension of a Perth radio host who repeatedly questioned her partner’s sexuality.

In response to the General Morrison’s video and the week’s events, feminist commentator Jane Caro said: “Feminist heroes turn up in the unlikeliest places, that’s what keeps my hope alive.”

She tweeted: “Quick, can we organise a series of leadership seminars run by the ADF’s David Morrison for all our politicians before Sept 14?”

The feminist group Destroy The Joint shared the video on social media and said that General Morrison has emerged from the week as “someone who’s got their marbles”.

Others said his performance was a remarkable show of “real leadership” that is all too rare in Australian public life.

“I’d almost forgotten what a true leader sounds like,” said political commentator and author George Megalogenis, who called the general “a gun”.

TV host Marc Fennell called it the speech of 2013 to which another Twitter user replied: “I can’t stop fist pumping. That’s f–ing leadership right there”.

General Morrison finished the video with a stern warning to Defence Force members that it was up to them to make a difference.

He called on innocent members to “show moral courage” and take a stand against those who displayed degrading behaviour.

“If you’re not up to it find something else to do with your life. There is no place for you among this band of brothers and sisters.”




Asian tourists abused on public transport

A man was captured on film abusing a middle-aged couple of Asian appearance on a Sydney bus, in another instance of racial abuse aboard public transport.

Another instance of racist abuse has reportedly been recorded on a Sydney bus.

A Caucasian man was captured on film abusing a middle-aged couple of Asian appearance, swearing at them and ranting about the Japanese bombing of Australia during World War II.

At one point the Asian man began apologising but it did not placate his abuser, who continued yelling, Fairfax Media reported.

The incident occured on the 470 bus from Circular Quay to Lilyfield in Sydney on Sunday evening.

A 30-year-old office worker of Chinese descent, Heidi, said she and another passenger told the man to get off the bus but were ignored. She then began filming the incident.

Heidi, who asked the Herald that her surname not be recorded, said no other passengers said anything.

“We didn’t receive any support from the other passengers,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Some told us to sit back down and be quiet and everyone just looked really blase.

No one did anything about it. In fact, two girls sitting next to me thought it was funny and burst into laughter.”

This is the latest in a string of videos to be posted, showing racial abuse on public transport.

Last year an attack on a French woman who was singing in French made headlines.

Two people abused the woman and made threats of violence against her.

Earlier this year, ABC Newsreader Jeremy Fernandez was racially abused on a Sydney bus in the presence of his daughter.


And there’s more

‘What if that happened to my mother?’: Man who stood up to bus racism told to accept abuse

April 2, 2013 – 1:52PM
Rachel Olding

Rachel Olding


Racist bus rant backlash

A second witness to a racist attack on a Sydney bus has come forward to say he was also targeted in the anti-Asian rant, and told by fellow passengers not to challenge his abuser.

Meanwhile the woman who used social media to publicise the attack has become the victim of further abuse online.

Yong Wang, a Chinese-Australian man, said he stood up on the 470 bus to Lilyfield on Easter Saturday to defend a middle-aged man and woman of Korean appearance who were being racially abused by a Caucasian man.

Racist rant … a screengrab of the video posted on YouTube.

Yet the man then turned on Mr Wang.

“He started to accuse the Korean lady in the video [for] not being able to speak English,” he said. “The lady’s son started to apologise and explain she is a tourist. Then he got worse.”

Another woman, who came forward yesterday and only wanted to be known as Heidi, backed Mr Wang’s intervention but said they didn’t receive any support from the other passengers, who either looked away, told them to sit down or laughed.

Mr Wang said people had told him not to argue with the man as he appeared drunk.

“I felt that I had to stand up when he called the lady disgusting because I just thought ‘what if that happened to my mother when she was visiting Australia?’,” Mr Wang said.

In the latter part of the rant, which Heidi caught on film, the Caucasian man yells at the Asian tourists about the Japanese bombing of Australia during World War II and calls them “f—ing bastards”.

Before the camera started rolling, the man yelled racist taunts such as, “Do you f—ing speak English?”, “Japanese c—s” and “why did you come to Australia?”, predominantly at the woman, said Heidi, a 30-year-old office worker of Chinese descent.

Since posting the video on YouTube and urging people to share it if it “upsets you”, Heidi has been subject to abuse and the YouTube page has been bombarded with racist, sexist and abusive comments.

Most of the 350 comments on the video attack the victims of the rant or those who stood up for them.

City Central police are contacting witnesses to ask if they would like to make a formal statement which would initiate an investigation into the incident.

A State Transit spokesman said CCTV footage and assistance would be provided to police if required.

Bus drivers can try to intervene to ask a passenger to leave a bus if an incident of anti-social behaviour occurs but they have no power to force a passenger off.

They can contact a supervisor via radio and organise for police to meet the bus, a spokesman said.

A leading racism researcher, Kevin Dunn, said the majority of bystanders will do nothing to intervene in a racist attack, usually because they don’t know what they should do.

He said witnesses could say something to the offender, film the incident or report it to an authority.

“In circumstances where people do speak up, the affirming effect on the victim can almost be so positive that it cancels out the effects of the racism,” he said.

The incident is the latest in a string of racist rants on public transport to be filmed or shared on social media.

In February, ABC newsreader Jeremy Fernandez tweeted about being called a “black c—” who should “go back to his country” by a female passenger on a Sydney bus. He was told by the bus driver to move seats but refused to.

In November last year, footage of a racist attack on a French woman on a Melbourne bus went viral after she was called a dog by male passengers, threatened with having her breasts cut off and told to “speak English or die”.