Why racism is rife in online bullying and how it’s being prevented

Online bullying takes on all forms, with immeasurable numbers of trolls flinging hate from their keyboards. No one’s safe from their wrath, least of all those of different race. In fact, recent incidents have proven this.

Last month in the UK the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, spoke out about the horrifying abuse she receives online.

Through both emails and social media, Abbott told how she’d received rape and death threats.  She also recounts being regularly called a ‘black bitch’ and ’n*****’!

Diane Abbott, Shadow Home Secretary, UK, has received racism-fuelled online threats

In another UK incident late last year, an online attacker was sentenced to two years for making anti-semitic death threats towards Luciana Berger.

John Nimmo sent two emails to Berger, one of which included a picture of a large knife, telling her to “watch your back Jewish scum”.

Australia has recently witnessed similar events. Earlier in the year, Islamic woman, Yasmin Abdel-Magied, left the country.

Abdel-Magied hasn’t given a reason for her move, other than saying it’s a rite of passage that many Australians do (which is true). However, there’s speculation that online abuse relating to her religion may have contributed to her departure.

So why are racism and religious attacks towards women so rife online?

“Those engaging in online abuse seek to make themselves feel powerful by dis-empowering their targets,” says Dr Andrew Oboler, CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute.

Using racism and bigotry, the haters tell those from minority ethnic or religious groups that they don’t belong in Australia and aren’t welcome. — Dr Andrew Oboler, CEO, Online Hate Prevention Institute

Using messages of sexual violence, these abusers seek to silence and dis-empower women, telling them to get out of the public sphere which they seek to make a hostile and dangerous place for women.

The abuse is often, but not always, anonymous, giving the attackers a sense of growing power and protection.

Oboler notes that neither racism nor violence towards women is new in society, but in its online form there’s very little deterrent to dissuade people from engaging in such abuse.

“In an attempt to change the global situation, the Online Hate Prevention Institute has been monitoring and reporting on the problems in social media,” he says.  “We’ve created tools to empower the public and capture large volumes of reporting to bring transparency to social media.”

“We can report on the level and nature of online hate, and how effective companies are at responding to specific types of abusive content. We’ve given policy and law makers a solid basis in evidence.”

In 2018, a new version of reporting software will be launched, making it multilingual with the ability to assist people, communities and organisations around the world.

“The problem of online hate continues to grow, but so do our capabilities tackling it,” concludes Oboler.

By Jo Hartley