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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Facebook saga continues

In response to my grizzle to the Human Rights Commission yesterday about my apparent inability to instigation action against either Facebook or the Facebook pages of Abo-Memes, I received a detailed response today.

Dear Ross

I appreciate your comments.

It may be helpful if I clarify the various ways the Commission seeks to protect and promote human rights. One option provided in federal discrimination law is for aggrieved people or groups to make complaints about racial discrimination and racial hatred. I clarified the requirements in the law regarding this in my previous email. 

Additionally, the Commission and its specific Commissioners have a policy and advocacy role which includes drawing attention to human rights issues, raising community awareness and encouraging positive action by governments, service providers and others. 

As you may be aware, Ms Helen Szoke, Race Discrimination Commissioner is aware of the issues raised by the Facebook page and has commented publicly on this. She has advocated strongly for the removal of the page and continues to monitor the situation closely. I have provided a link to information on our website regarding this.

The above link makes interesting reading although I am prepared to dispute the accuracy of some of the statements. For example the content allegedly removed on Wednesday August 7th, was in fact still present the following day as I was making liberal use of it in my blogging etc.

The statements by Commissioner Szoke include advice to Facebook that:
  • now was a good opportunity for the site to revisit its guidelines and test if they are in tune with community opinion;
  • [there was a need to ensure] that social media such as Facebook have standards which... comply with legal requirements [emphasis added]
I believe the outcry over this matter should amply demonstrate that Facebook's attitudes are most definitely not in tune with 'community opinion'. The disrespectful attitudes of a limited number of red-necked fools should not be permitted to remain when they are so clearly out of line with the rest of the community in a manner that is intentionally hurtful and incredibly inappropriate. Freedom of speech is a widely held civic 'right' that is in fact a privileged earned by our democratic forebears and a concept that should not be subject to protection of abuse such as racial vilification and hate speech. Legitimate dissent or protest is one thing. Straight out abuse of that protection afforded by Facebook is another matter entirely. Again I refer to statements made on the Abo-Memes pages that they were 'untouchable.'

Even more important is the concern that Facebook may be acting in a manner that does not comply with legal requirements. This should not have been a surprise to Facebook. They have operations within Australia and therefore are required to act in a manner that is lawful within this jurisdiction. I have no doubt that I was not the only complainant to draw Facebook's attention to Race Discrimination legal concerns but that did not stop them quite blithely dismissing complaints. Facebook are still yet to respond to my repeated complaints and requests for further information.

Now if Facebook cannot afford to pay for legal support to explain these matters to them, the Human Rights Commission have a fact sheet on their website which explains matters quite clearly:

I suggest Facebook staff start acquainting themselves with that information.

The statement by Commissioner Szoke also notes that the "Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has confirmed that it is currently investigating the page on the site." I am unable to locate any specific information on the ACMA's website concerning this. However a simple perusal of the ACMA's website make it pretty darned clear that the behaviour in question is definitely questionable at best under the Authority's remit.

Facebook's blindingly obvious double-standards in application of its Community Standards make me seriously question just how much attention it shall actually pay to what amounts to nothing more than 'concerns' expressed by the Commissioner. Nothing seems to be in place to force Facebook to actually do anything to bring its behaviour into accord not just with the 'community opinion' but actually accord with the law within Australian jurisdictions. So long as matters may only be addressed one case at a time, with Facebook's seemingly automatic rejection of genuine and serious complaints, then this behaviour would seem to be able to continue. Note how quickly Abo-Memes appeared in the wake of a similar collection of Facebook pages being removed.

My advice to anyone else similarly concerned as I am, especially if of indigenous descent, is to lodge complaints with both the Human Rights Commission and the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Once again, Mark Zuckerberg, is this what you expected or wanted Facebook to be? Hey Mr Billionaire – how about taking a break from kicking around with the glitterati and your mates and do something about this mess!

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