Jews, Aborigines unite to fight racism

Peter Wertheim (left), Stephen Lewis. Photo: Nadine Saacks

JEWISH and Aboriginal leaders have come together to protest against racism on Facebook.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) and Aboriginal Medical Service have lodged a formal complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission regarding “Aboriginal memes” and “Jewish memes” pages posted on the social networking site.

Although offensive pages have been removed from Facebook within Australia following complaints from communal leaders, other less offensive versions of the memes pages are still available. However, users can still access the original pages elsewhere in the world and, as a result, they can be found using search engines.

“In social media platforms, the more viewers and discussion, the more advertising revenue can be created, and this advertising revenue usually goes directly to the platform provider,” ECAJ executive director Peter Wertheim said.

“Platform providers have a clear commercial interest against any form of regulation, and in being as ­permissive as possible. And they don’t have the knowledge to judge what does or does not cross the line into racial hatred. The final decision about whether to allow an allegedly racist publication to remain on the net should not rest with them.”

Facebook said in a statement that the pages are “incredibly distasteful” but don’t violate their terms.

“We want Facebook to be a place where people can openly discuss issues and express their views, while respecting the rights and feelings of others,” the statement said.

“We recognise that this sometimes means people will share ideas and opinions that brush up against a line of acceptability for many people.”

The statement said that the pages would remain online because it is a matter of free speech.

“These pages are clearly offensive to some, but as they are not targeting individuals, are based on humour and make no credible threat of violence, they will not be removed.

“For comparison – if you search for ‘Jew jokes’ on a popular video website, you get 8300-plus results, while if you enter the same search on a major search engine, you get 11 million results.”

Facebook’s position on free speech has caused serious concerns in the wider Australian community this week because it reportedly denied a request from Victoria Police to remove pages that incite hatred against the man charged with the alleged murder of Jill Meagher.

Victorian Police’s deputy commissioner Tim Cartwright said such pages are not only offensive, they are also detrimental to the legal process.

“Some of those sites are inciting hatred and are really quite disgusting in the sorts of messages they’re portraying,” Cartwright said.

“One of them calls for his hanging. Some others call for lynching, which is just totally unacceptable and not helpful at all in giving the man a fair trial now. The fact is a man’s been arrested, we have a good, fair legal process in this state, we need to let it run the course.’’

JOSHUA LEVI

ECAJ executive director Peter Wertheim.

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