Internet sensation and world class British racist Jacqueline Woodhouse, on the London underground earlier this year. She was jailed for five months for her rant, which lasted more than seven minutes.
By Shyamla Eswaran
NATIONAL: Stress can lead people to act out in startling ways. Some lash out at loved ones, others withdraw from society altogether. And some don a cyber cloak of invisibility, troll the internet and post comments so breathtakingly offensive that it shocks even those desensitized by the ignorance and racism routinely encountered in Aboriginal affairs.
A NSW government employee, allegedly stressed out from working in an Aboriginal community, recently submitted a post on tracker.org.au. Amy Makim wrote:
“Face the facts! You have been conquered! Get over it! Get a job, look after your bloody children and stop putting your hand out! You should have put up a better fight to keep your land or more frankly the English should have wiped you all out because the 2.6% of you are costing our country a fortune and making our country a place of ghetto violence!”.
The posting cost Ms Makim her job.
Cyber racism is no joke. It is classified as an act of racism, and therefore illegal, under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, which specifically outlaws racially motivated offensive behaviour.
Internet-based racism and racial vilification complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) have grown steadily in recent years, accounting for 23 percent of complaints lodged under the Racial Discrimination Act in 2010/11. However, the majority of online racist vilification is either not reported, or is reported directly to the software provider.
Regulatory problems arise when it comes to applying the legislation to Internet Service Providers (the companies who hook you up to the internet)or individuals located in other countries.
This was demonstrated in January 2010 when Encyclopedia Dramatica refused to remove racist descriptions of Aboriginal people from its site.
The AHRC received 20 complaints from Indigenous Australians, including Steve Hodder-Watt from Alice Springs, and tried to prosecute the website’s American owners under Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act.
The site’s owner, Joseph Evers, blogged that Encyclopedia Dramatica would “never be censored in any way”, laughed it off and created a page about Hodder-Watt that was even more offensive than the article he originally complained about.
Despite Google removing the page from Australian search results, the site remains accessible.
On the other hand, cyber racism can have some very real ramifications for perpetrators. Just ask Jacqueline Woodhouse who was recently jailed for 21-weeks by District Judge Michael Snow at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in central London.
In January this year, the former secretary from Essex treated fellow travellers on a London underground train to a 7-minute, champagne-charged racist rant.
A Pakistani man sitting next to her responded by singing his national anthem: the more venomous her words became, the more passion with which he sang.
Another target, Pakistani businessman Galbant Juttla, was returning from a family funeral and decided to post it on YouTube “to show the public … what kind of people are out here and not to put up with this sort of behaviour”.
200,000 views later, Woodhouse was an internet sensation – for all the wrong reasons, of course – and police launched an investigation to discover her identity.
She’s in jail now.
It’s true the internet is a playground for trolls and bigots to disseminate content that is offensive, threatening, violent and abusive. But be warned: the cyber cloak of invisibility is a very thin one.
Whether you’re an American-based troll site trying to pass off racist content as satire, a bigot riding the London Underground, or a government employee who denigrates and dehumanises the very people you’re employed to assist, people in the real world may not stand for it.
So unless you’re willing to scream it on a street corner, don’t publish it online.
And if you are willing to say it in a public place, own it and be prepared to go to jail for it.
* Shyamla Eswaran is the Associate Publisher of Tracker magazine. She holds a BA in Communications, and a Masters of Human Rights Law and Policy.