Facebook Administrators Must Not Tolerate Hate-Speech or the Incitement of Violence

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The founder of a Facebook community crime page has had his account suspended by the social media giant for breaching its guidelines. 

The social media page, called Action for Alice, is a forum for the Alice Springs community dealing with youth crime, and has over 60,000 followers. 

The page’s founder, Darren Clark, says that despite correspondence with Facebook, he’s now facing an extension of his original suspension and his page will not be permitted to go live again for 28 days.

Darren Clarke is a local business owner in Alice Springs –  living first hand, of the crime ‘crisis’ that came to the attention of Federal Politicians last month, resulting in the reinstatement of alcohol bans and a commitment of  $250 million in Commonwealth funding for the region. 

The crime crisis in the Northern Territory 

Crime statistics released by Northern Territory police this week suggest that alcohol-related assaults increased by 68 per cent, domestic violence-related assaults were up 66 per cent and assaults were up 51 per cent during 2022. 

Property damage rose 55 per cent, commercial break-ins by 47 per cent, motor vehicle thefts by 13 per cent and house break-ins by 9 per cent.

First-hand experience

Mr Clarke’s bakery was broken into again over the weekend – for the 42nd time – causing around $3,000 worth of damage. 

He believes that without a local television station, radio station or newspaper, his Action for Alice Facebook page has been instrumental in raising awareness of the issue of what’s happening in the area, but perhaps more importantly it has acted as a forum for residents to express their concerns and to support each other during this difficult time. 

Mr Clarke says that while racist hate speech and even comments advocating violence have been posted on the page, he has always been quick to act on it.

But after posting a video of a brawl last week, on the back of a seven-day suspension following the posting of another clip that Facebook deemed showed “bullying and harassment”, the Action for Alice page has now been shut down for the next four weeks. 

What happens if Facebook policies are violated? 

If Facebook policies are violated, then pages (and people) can be temporarily restricted from posting, commenting, or sending messages.

And Facebook, along with most other special media sites have been cracking down on content after Australia’s Online Safety Act came into effect last year. At the time these laws were introduced, they were touted as some of the harshest in the world. 

The laws give the eSafety Commissioner the power to compel platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram etc to remove “cyber abuse material” within 24 hours, or face a significant fine – in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Often, complaints about online content are made by individuals offended or concerned by content, or victims of image-based abuse or bullying,  but with the onus increasingly on social media companies to toe the line – even though they have a significant degree of responsibility to  ‘police themselves’ – Facebook is one platform that has deployed the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI)  in moderation duties to identify hate speech and violence, threats, bullying or sexually explicit images etc … by using filters and algorithms. 

And Facebook has faced a lot of criticism for doing so – because AI does not have the human capacity to judge content, and the context of content, which can often be equally as important. 

While Facebook maintains that all guideline violations do receive some level of ‘human attention’, AI is used extensively to sort and prioritise complaints and determine whether they should be upheld, as well as to conduct random sweeps of content. 

The risks of hosting community pages 

Social media experts suggest that for those hosting community pages which do detail local crime, there can be serious risks, because Australia’s Cyber Safety legislation not only targets companies, there are a number of offences that directly relate to individuals, which have heavy penalties (fines and bans) too. 

Crime reporting and online crime forums can keep people informed – in much the same way old ‘neighbouhod watch’ groups once worked. And in places like Alice Springs where the crime rate is so high, and people tend to feel safer within their own homes, they have a role to play in bringing communities together and connecting people with each other. 

But page administrators need to be particularly vigilant. 

Posting graphic videos or any content which actually identifies perpetrators should be avoided and administrators need to be aware that content can fuel anger and vigilante-type behaviour. No matter how strict page and forum guidelines are, people can be unrpredictable and managing comments can be very time consuming, and of course, balanced with the right to freedom of speech. 

Does anyone remember Donald Trump, the storming of the Capitol Building in January 2021 and the ensuing debate about the role social media played in the leadup? His accounts were pemanently suspended, but both Twitter and Facebook were heavily criticised for taking ‘too long’ to act.

Fearing he will ultimately be banned from Facebook, Mr Clark is in the process of setting up an Action for Alice website and Twitter account – but Australia’s Cyber Laws don’t just apply to social media companies, they also apply to websites, apps, hosting services and carriage services. 

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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