eSafety Commissioner Crying Wolf On Hate Speech

Written by:
5 July 2024
eSafety Commissioner Crying Wolf On Hate Speech - Featured image

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant has recently generated significant international media attention by seeking to ban from the internet footage of the stabbing and alleged terrorist attack against Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel in his Church in Sydney in April 2024. The Commissioner’s justification for this controversial action has been that ‘online brutality is spilling over into real life harm and violence.’

To assess the claim that the Australian community is at risk of harm and violence unless the internet is censored, the IPA has analysed a previous comparable claims made by the Commissioner that cyber abuse directed at indigenous Australians was ‘likely to intensify’ during the 2023 Voice referendum period and that the number of complaints was ‘highly concerning’.

An analysis of data released under Freedom of Information (FOI) reveals this narrative of online abuse during the referendum was misleading:

  • There were just two complaints made by indigenous Australians about cyber abuse relating to the Voice referendum from January 2022 until 14 October 2023 (the referendum day).
  • The eSafety Commissioner did not on any occasion issue an order to take down online content during the referendum period following a complaint by an indigenous Australian.
  • From 1 July 2023 to 30 September 2023—the last three calendar months prior to the referendum day— there were 30 complaints in total made by indigenous Australians about cyber abuse, or just 0.4 of all complaints made to the eSafety Commissioner during the period.
  • Although the precise nature of each complaint is confidential, most complaints were likely not related to the complainant’s indigenous It is likely that eleven or fewer of the 30 complaints made were race-related.
  • By contrast, in the same three-month period in 2022 and in the absence of a formal referendum campaign, there were just 22 complaints of cyber abuse by indigenous A difference of just eight complaints. In comparison, the increase in all complaints over the same periods was 1,129 (from 5,867 to 6,996.

The eSafety Commissioner has ‘cried wolf’ on this issue. The misleading claim of abuse against indigenous Australians during the 2023 referendum painted a false picture of the level of community disharmony and thus were liable to unnecessarily increase community tensions. The Australian community should be sceptical of the eSafety Commissioner’s claims of looming online harm or that the exercise of censorship powers are based on an objective, material, and real assessment of actual harm to the community, and is more likely based on political considerations or raising the profile of the eSafety Commissioner.

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