Case studies

Cyber racism case studies

A student at a Sydney school received comments in a text message from a fellow student about his lunch. (To the effect of: leave your murt-a-bah at home).

The Principal addressed this problem by initiating a Murt-a-bah day at school. The students Malaysian born parents organised the cooking and all students and teachers were encouraged to have a murt-a-bah for lunch.

The result was that the student regained a sense of pride in his national food and was made to feel good about bringing this food to school. Other students enjoyed the taste of this food as well.

Students were required to respond to the Prime Minister’s apology to the Stolen Generations via a school blog-site for an English assignment.

Some students began to demonstrate a range of opinions on the issue. One student developed a series of (inappropriate) racist remarks, and continued to blog his opinion repeatedly, commenting on other students’ opinions. Over a period of days, other students made comments and opinions began to polarise.

The English teacher responsible for the assignment was very concerned, and unsure as to what her responsibilities were in the situation. She had asked the students to provide informed critique of the speech and relevant media. The student in question had refused to read any of the references provided.

Although there were no direct complaints made from the students, there was clear evidence that racist remarks were being disseminated through the virtual school networks.

The school responded to the issue by:

  1. Removing content from the website and installing a more satisfactory moderation panel.
  2. Addressing root causes of racist comments through (broader education with other teachers and parents)
  3. Implementing a school anti-racism policy that included cyber-racism.

The most significant legal case demonstrating the laws around cyber racism is Jones v Toben.

Mr Jeremy Jones, from the Australian Jewish Council, made a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission in regards to racial content on the website of the Adelaide Institute.

The author of the material, Dr Toben, disagreed that the material was racist. Because the matter couldn’t be resolved through conciliation at the Australian Human Rights Commission, it had to be decided in the federal court.

The Federal Court Judge ruled that the material definitely was racist, because it vilified Jewish Australians and was written with the intention to hurt and cause offence to Jewish communities.

The judge ordered the website author to remove the content from the website and prohibited the author from publishing or republishing the same material.

Source: Jones v Toben, Federal Court of Australia, date of decision: 17 September 2002.

Australian Human Rights Commission conciliated case of cyber racism

  • Grounds:  Race – Direct, Racial hatred
  • Area(s):  Employment
  • Terms of settlement: Financial compensation, Apology – private, Employment – Training opportunity provided
  • Compensation: $15,000

The complainant, who is of Lebanese/Armenian racial origin, is employed with the respondent finance company. The complainant alleged his former supervisor sent him an email about Muslim women that he found offensive, as his wife is Muslim. He also alleged that the individual respondent called him an ‘Arab’ and a ‘bomb thrower’ in front of other staff and also told him to ‘speak English’. The complainant said that after he made an internal grievance about his supervisor, his higher duties were removed, his work was over-scrutinised and his performance was unfairly criticised.

The individual respondent denied sending the email and said his comments were misunderstood. The company advised that in response to the complainant’s internal grievance, they met with the individual respondent and he moved to a different section of the company. The company denied that action taken in relation to the complainant’s work performance was because of the complainant’s race or because he had made an internal grievance.

The complaint was resolved at a conciliation conference. The individual respondent provided the complainant with a verbal apology at the conference. The company agreed to pay the complainant’s legal costs to the value of $5,000 and provide the complainant with a training fund to the value of $10,000 to assist his career development. The company also agreed to hold a staff meeting to confirm that the type of behaviour that was the subject of the complaint was unacceptable and to advise that the dispute between the complainant and the individual respondent had been resolved.

Australian Human Rights Commission conciliated case of cyber racism

  • Grounds:  Racial hatred
  • Area(s):  Racial hatred
  • Terms of settlement: Material removed from website/other publication; Employment – training opportunity provided

The complainant, who is of Asian background, complained about a website which he said advocated violence against Asians. The comments on the website included:

Asians take all our good jobs and careers leaving us aussies to have to fight and often miss out on a opportunity for spots in our universities and good jobs.

Asian people flood our city with there Asian shops with their language all over them, having their own dedicated “china town” and their own suburb…

…we understand everyone has different levels of hate for Asians and so we have…. Yellers. Their job is to Yell at the Asians with passion i.e.”YOU GOOK F**K OFF TO CHINA” and do what ever they can to show Asians they are not welcome in Australia…  …Fighters., are there to express there anger physically by laying the Gooks out.

On receipt of the complaint, the Commission contacted the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to establish the identity of the website owner. Within a few days of contacting the ISP, the ISP advised that the website had been disabled because it breached the ISP’s Acceptable Use Policy.

The complainant informed the Commission that the action by the ISP resolved his complaint.

Australian Human Rights Commission conciliated case of cyber racism

  • Grounds:  Racial hatred
  • Area(s):  Racial hatred
  • Terms of settlement: Material removed from website/other publication

The complainants, of Aboriginal background, complained about a respondent social networking site. They claimed that a social group titled ‘No I’m Not Bloody Sorry & Don’t Have Anyone to Be Reconciled With!’ was created and loaded onto the respondent site. The complainants alleged the members of the group made comments that racially vilified Aboriginal people. Some of the comments included:

Why should I have to apologise for something that happened over 200 years ago? Consider it survival of the fittest.

I have nothing wrong with an Aboriginal being named Australian of the Year, but when it’s just handed out as a token gesture rather than being EARNT…

After being advised of the complaint, the respondent company informed the Commission that the group had been disabled from the website because it violated the site’s user policy.

The complainants advised the Commission that the action taken by the respondent company resolved their complaint.

Australian Human Rights Commission conciliated case of cyber racism

  • Grounds:  Race – direct, Race – indirect
  • Area(s):  Employment
  • Terms of settlement: Material removed from website/other publication, Apology – public

The complainant, who is of Indian background, claimed a recruitment agency discriminated against him on the basis of his race. He said an online job advertisement placed by the agency specified ‘No chinkers or Indians’.

The agency advised the Commission that the template of a previous employee had been used for the advertisement and the advertisement had not been checked for accuracy before being loaded onto the website. The agency said the comment in the advertisement does not represent the agency’s views.

The complaint was resolved with the agency agreeing to remove the advertisement, audit the website for content and issue a public apology on the website.

Vindaloo against violence is a social movement that formed in reaction to the attacks against Indian students in Melbourne in 2009. Community members dined together at Indian restaurants in February 2010 as a way of showing support to the Indian community in Australia. The event was organised and motivated through the use of social media.

The movement attracted generous media coverage in both Australia and India. As part of the movement over 17,000 protesters at over 400 restaurants, workplaces, schools and universities were mobilised using the website Vindaloo against violence to demonstrate against violence and racism.