Sunday Territorian

Vile racism in too-hard basket for social media


There is a cruel monotony to the manner in which elite Indigenous sports stars are subjected to racial vilificati­on. In the past week alone five AFL players were on the receiving end of racist abuse. Five. None of them are dirty players or cheats. None of them belted anyone or lifted a middle finger toward the crowd. They were just out there playing footy. The common feature to all this filth is that it is published via social media.

Despite my biases, I am not going to be so defensive as to say the journalist­ic mainstream has always covered itself in glory in its treatment of Indigenous players. Elements of the radio, TV and print media were complicit in the sustained harassment of Adam Goodes. It remains, in my view, a subject of enduring shame.

But when it comes to the deliberate and specific targeting of players purely on the basis of the colour of their skin, it is the vastly lucrative social media giants such as

Instagram, Twitter and Facebook which are always involved. They are the only publishers who are legally allowed to get away with such slovenly practices. Their shouldersh­rugging ambivalenc­e to the fact that it keeps happening suggests they are morally untroubled by their role in all this.

As print has transition­ed to online publishing, mainstream news sites have all had to employ moderators to ensure that whatever comments are posted do not descend into hate speech. It does not always work, but it almost always does, because behind every published web comment sits a sentient and trained human being who knows the legal and moral boundaries within which free speech can operate.

The best that social media is prepared to do is to promise to clean up offensive material as soon as possible, but only after it’s been published. It’s a total cop-out.

Newspapers, TV stations and radio broadcaste­rs cannot get away with this. It would save a hell of a lot of time and money editing news websites if you automatica­lly posted every comment that came in and then wait until Monday to see if anyone had complained about any of them, then spend a few days meandering around working out if you had cleaned the cache properly. The thing is, even if mainstream websites did take the comments down, they could still be pursued for breaking discrimina­tion and vilificati­on laws, or defamation.

Neither the owners of the social media sites nor the law itself seem to have cottoned on to the fact that social media sites are publishers in the same way news websites are publishers. Why should there be any difference? And why, given the exponentia­l growth in revenues by these social media companies, should they be allowed to persist with a system whereby any old piece of hateful garbage can be posted with no scrutiny, no mechanism to ensure it will not cause hurt and harm?

The simple argument is that it is too hard for them and too expensive, and that it jars with the selfpublis­hing ethos that underpins their business. Well if that’s the case, fine. You don’t want to do it and it will cost too much. It’s a hell of a counterarg­ument.

So where does that leave the five Indigenous blokes who were racially abused? Is the unofficial advice to them to suck it up? Not to look?

I have heard people say this past week that in one of the cases, maybe the player in question should have just copped it sweet because the person who sent him a racist direct message had zero followers, meaning that no one other than the player saw the remark. I don’t think the onus here should be on this player, or any player, to change the way he feels and responds to something like this.

The onus should be on those who invented the medium that makes it all possible and now pretend that nothing can be done to change it, other than to hit the delete button once the hurt and damage is done.

It’s vile and it’s going to drive great men out of sport if it continues.

on“The us should be on those who invented the medium that makes it (the abuse) all possible

 ?? ?? Izak Rankine of the Adelaide Crows was racially abused online this week. Picture: James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images
Izak Rankine of the Adelaide Crows was racially abused online this week. Picture: James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images
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