E-Safety Commissioner’s Misleading Indigenous Abuse Warning During Voice Debate Played Into Her ‘Oppressor And Oppressed’ World View

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9 July 2024
E-Safety Commissioner’s Misleading Indigenous Abuse Warning During Voice Debate Played Into Her ‘Oppressor And Oppressed’ World View - Featured image
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In this article, Director of Law and Policy John Storey contextualises and disseminates the IPA’s research on Australia’s internet censorship and misinformation laws.

E-Safety Commissioner Julie Inman-Grant has a track record of crying wolf, and her narrative about the abuse of Indigenous Aussies ahead of the Voice referendum is not the only example of her distorting the facts to suit her agenda, writes John Storey

On March 19, less than a month before the terrible stabbing attack on Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel in his church in Sydney, Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, Julia Inman Grant, was already on the case.

That day she issued a media release titled “Tech companies grilled on how they are tackling terror and violent extremism”, which confirmed that social media companies had been issued legal notices requiring them to take steps to protect Australians from “terrorist and violent extremist material and activity”.

You might think that the eSafety Commissioner was highly prescient about the looming risk of terrorism, issuing her warning weeks before one of Australia’s most prominent and allegedly religiously motivated terror attacks.

But you would be wrong.

The eSafety Commissioner’s media release did not warn about religiously motivated violence.

There was no mention of rising community tensions caused by the war in Gaza, rising anti-Semitism on university campuses or rising risks of violence due to regular pro-Palestine demonstrations.

Instead, the eSafety Commissioner chose to warn about “white nationalism”.

Her media release provides three examples of terrorist attacks caused by “online radicalisation”: The terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Halle, Germany, in 2019 and in Buffalo, New York in 2022.

In each case the perpetrators were white men and the victims Muslims, Jews, and African Americans respectively.

It is interesting that the eSafety Commissioner chose to highlight overseas examples of violent extremism, and cases that just happen to neatly fit the “oppressor and oppressed” narrative so popular among our academic and activist elite.

If one were looking at international examples, then surely the thousands of reported attacks carried out by Islamist extremists would be of more concern.

Or better yet, highlight actual Australian examples of terrorism, such as the Lindt Cafe siege in 2014 or the 2018 Bourke Street attack, both of which were motivated by Islamist extremism.

But under the world view to which Ms Inman Grant subscribes, only members of the oppressor class can be openly denounced, while members of the oppressed class can do no wrong.

If the social media companies took her warning literally, they would have devoted efforts to seeking out and clamping down on right wing or white nationalist extremists online.

One wonders if perhaps resources and attention were diverted from what was always the most likely source of such an attack.

Our eSafety Commissioner has form in this regard.

Two months prior to the Voice to Parliament referendum vote last year, Ms Inman Grant warned of a likely increase in online abuse directed at Indigenous Australians.

“We anticipate reports are likely to intensify as we approach the voice referendum date,” she noted, and “any increase in reports by First Nations people of online harm is highly concerning”.

The Institute of Public Affairs looked to see if this prediction was any more accurate than her warnings about white nationalism.

They were not.

During the referendum campaign there were two complaints made by Indigenous Australians about cyber abuse related to the Voice referendum.

Just two.

During the Voice referendum there was not a single notice issued by the eSafety Commissioner to any social media platform to take down content on the basis of a complaint by an Indigenous Australian.

Not a single one.

In the crucial three-month period before the referendum, there were 30 cyber abuse complaints made by Indigenous Australians.

Not all of these would have been related to racism.

Compared to the same three-month period in 2022, that represents an increase of just eight complaints.

To put this in perspective, the increase in all complaints to the eSafety Office was 1,129, rising from 5,867 in July-September 2022 to 6,996 in the same period in 2023.

In the same period that the eSafety Commissioner received 30 complaints of adult cyber abuse affecting Indigenous Australians, she received 2,293 complaints concerning image-based abuse, 3,258 complaints about illegal and restricted online content, 735 complaints about cyberbullying, and 710 complaints about all forms of adult cyber abuse.

Complaints by Indigenous Australians regarding adult cyber abuse therefore represented just 0.4 per cent of the eSafety Commissioner’s workload in the period that she warned would be most concerning.

In the context of a nation of 26 million people, of which one million people identify as Indigenous, in the middle of a divisive national debate on Australian race relations, just 30 potential race-related complaints, which resulted in no take-down orders, is a remarkably small number.

The reality is that “hate speech” and racism are a very small part of the total complaints received by the eSafety Commissioner.

Abuse directed at children is overwhelmingly the biggest issue.

Since 2015, eSafety has finalised more than 84,366 investigations into child sexual exploitation material.

In short, the eSafety Commissioner has cried wolf on the likely abuse Indigenous Australians received during the Voice referendum.

The number of such complaints was tiny and did not “intensify” in a way that could be described as “highly concerning”.

It is entirely plausible that the eSafety Commissioner’s comments led to the resources and attention of her office or those of the social media companies being diverted from areas of maximum concern for the public – child related abuse.

Further, by falsely suggesting Indigenous Australians were under siege from online abuse, in the middle of a contentious and divisive political debate, she may have exacerbated community tensions.

But Ms Inman Grant’s false warning did grab some headlines for herself and was a chance to virtue signal what side she is on.

John Storey is the Director of the Law and Policy at the Institute of Public Affairs

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