Australia May Regulate Social Media Content

Controversy over a Facebook page mocking aborigines may result in new legislation in Australia’s parliament compelling social media sites to remove racist content, Australian newspapers reported this week.


The page included images and statements about aborigines which hammered home, in none-too-subtle fashion, racist stereotypes about Australia’s first inhabitants. In the ensuing popular outcry, Facebook at first refused to remove the page, citing the need to protect free speech, then took the page down briefly, but later allowed it be reposted as “controversial humor.”




At this point the Australian government stepped in, with the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy demanding that the page be removed for violating Australia’s laws against racial discrimination.


While this would probably run afoul of First Amendment protections in the U.S., Australia has placed legal limits on speech with regard to race. In 1975 Australia’s Parliament outlawed racial discrimination in employment, housing, and access to public places, and in 1995 it passed an additional “Racial Hatred Act,” which forbids “offensive behavior based on racial hatred,” including any act which is “reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people…”


There are some exceptions to this rule, including statements made as part of an artistic work; as part of a debate with genuine academic, artistic, scientific or public import; as part of an objective news report; or as a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest. Apparently the Facebook page in question did not meet any of these criteria.


Nonetheless, the opposition Liberal Party is encouraging Parliament to consider further legislation that would require social networks to immediately remove such content – and, if they attempt to resist, empower the government to compel them to do so. The extra powers may be necessary, according to one supporter, because, as the latest controversy illustrated,  “It is clear that regulating social media providers using traditional approaches is difficult because their senior management and ownership is normally in other countries.”

6 comments about "Australia May Regulate Social Media Content".
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  1. Mike Mcgrath from RealXstream PTY LTD, August 10, 2012 at 10:32 p.m.

    Australians are often typecast as Drunk, Dumb and Racist
    most Australians I know are not like this.
    While I might agree with the moral stand point on this issue I am not sure that it is our governments job to police what people say on FB.
    Posting something on FB is very different from getting in someones face and forcing your racial hatred down their throat. If I don't like what someone has to say on FB I simply don't read it...

  2. Khalid Low from Reindeer Company, August 13, 2012 at 12:41 p.m.

    The subject is a bit misleading in terms of "regulating" Social Media but anyone who knows the history of the Aborigines will understand the need for the Australian government to step up and excercise some sense of hand slapping.

    There are times when government has to step up and this is one. We've seen this happen in the US too, kids who talk in a chat group or in email about getting back at other kids who torment them in school can be arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed, as happened recently to teens in Virginia and other states. They did nothing but talk. Where was free speech then?

    The First Amendment does not confer ANY absolute right of free speech. What it does is place a limit on the power of one branch of government to control speech, the legislative branch.

    Think about censorship and media. If there was such thing as free speech the word "censorship" would NOT exist.

  3. David Cearley from self employed, August 13, 2012 at 6:30 p.m.

    Khalid, the problem with a government regulating what you can say is that they can just as easily use that power to prevent you from criticizing them. I much prefer the US constitutionally protected speech, which out of necessity includes offensive speech. With social media, outrageous racist comments don't stand unchallenged.

  4. Khalid Low from Reindeer Company, August 30, 2012 at 5:31 p.m.

    That is true David. The main problem here I suppose is double standards by both governments or rather any government.
    They do talk about free speech but it never is free. There is always a fine line between what would be considered "free" and what can and has been censored for whatever reason (read: national security, classified info, public interest etc).

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 31, 2012 at 9:26 p.m.

    Nothing is free. And hate begets hate.

  6. Lori Foley from Kaplan University, September 14, 2012 at 8:54 a.m.

    The problem with 'American Rights', “freedom of speech”, is that it was written in 1784, and American society had yet to evolve another 200 years. Our American ancestors did not predict the future, of today’s global communication technology; nor did they expect us to seek entertainment from offensive, outspoken, negative judgment against our own nationality or allies. Society is now longer just a term used to title groups of people with similar interests or geographic locations, it is also, the global realm of internet technology and social communications.

    “All men are created equal”
    “Opinions are like A’ holes and everyone has got one”
    “To each its own”
    “If you have nothing nice to say, then, say nothing at all”

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