New research on attitudes towards online hate speech

A survey commissioned by eSafety has found around 1 in 7 Australians believe they have been the target of online hate speech in the 12 months to August 2019, with well over half reporting that they felt harmed as a result, typically citing mental or emotional stress, relationship problems or reputational damage.

Those surveyed were asked if, in the past 12 months, they had received a digital communication “that offended, discriminated, denigrated, abused and/or disparaged you because of your personal identity/beliefs (e.g. race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability etc.).”

“Social media provides untold opportunities for users to explore mutual interests or engage in vigorous debate, but too often we are seeing it shade over into threats, intimidation, harassment or vilification,” says Julie Inman Grant, eSafety Commissioner.

“This collaborative research shows that some Australian internet users — such as those identifying as LGBTQI or as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander — are more than twice as likely to experience online hate speech, which can inflict serious harm.”

“This research shows that what people identify as ‘hate speech’ can be a significant force for harm of Australians online. The findings are further evidence that dealing with cyber abuse – in all its forms – is a significant public policy challenge,” Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, said.

“People quite rightly expect the Government to consider the varied and complex issues driving certain online behaviours. That’s why we are developing sensible, proportionate and pragmatic policy responses. This includes the Government’s recently announced proposal to create a new cyber abuse scheme for Australian adults to tackle the most serious forms of online abuse, as part of the new Online Safety Act which we have committed to introduce.”

In the survey, nearly 8 in 10 Australians agreed that social media platforms should do more to stop the spread of hateful content online, while more than 7 in 10 said they would support legislation to address the problem.

However, almost a quarter of those polled said they believed people should be free to say whatever they want online.

Online hate speech findings from Australia, New Zealand and Europe is available here. The report is the first of a series to be derived from the adult online safety survey, a representative survey of 3,737 adults about online safety commissioned by eSafety in August 2019.

Australians can go here for further guidance on how to better protect themselves if they find themselves subject to online abuse.

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