Cyber Racism Fact Sheet (2011)

Cyber-racism and human rights

Updated January 2011


1 What is cyber-racism?
2 How prevalent is cyber-racism?
3 Why is cyber-racism a human rights issue?
4 What can I do if I identify an instance of cyber-racism? Where will it get me?
5 What is the Australian Human Rights Commission doing on cyber-racism?
6 Where can I get more information?
7 Other useful resources

1 What is cyber-racism?

Racism is a term used to describe:

  • a belief that some races are inherently superior to others
  • a belief that some groups of people are different and do not ‘fit’ into the ‘Australian way of life’
  • aggressive, abusive or offensive behaviour towards members of other races based on those beliefs.

Racism can take many forms, ranging from abusive language to discriminatory treatment to violence motivated by race.

When racism happens in the cyber-world it is known as cyber-racism. On the internet, cyber-racism can take the form of a website itself, its written content, its images, blogs, videos and on-line comments. Additionally, racist comments, images or language in text messages, on social networking sites or in emails are also examples of cyber racism.


2 How prevalent is cyber-racism?

Each year, the Commission receives a number of complaints about racial hatred on the Internet.

The internet has changed the ways in which people communicate, enabling ideas and images to spread quickly between large numbers of people all over the world. While this increased freedom of information-sharing has usually been used in a positive way, in some cases it has also been used to disseminate content that is offensive, threatening, violent and abusive.

In fact, internationally, the number internet and on social-networking sites devoted to racism, hate and militancy has been found to be on the increase.[1]


3 Why is cyber-racism a human rights issue?

All people have the right to live without fear of harassment or intimidation, in circumstances which enable them to reach their fullest potential.[2] People also have a right to be protected from physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, including racism and discrimination.[3]

The enjoyment of these and other rights can be negatively impacted upon by racist or otherwise offensive, abusive or threatening ideas. Similarly, when the internet is used ‘for purposes contrary to respect for human values, equality, non-discrimination, respect for others and tolerance’, it can also affect the enjoyment of a person’s rights.[4]


4 What can I do if I identify an instance of cyber-racism? Where will it get me?

There are a number of different organisations to which you can report inappropriate material. These organisations are set out in the table below.

It is a good idea to keep a record of the offensive material, whether by taking screen captures or by copying the content into a Word document. There are also some instant messaging programs available that have an inbuilt option which automatically saves conversations.

Where the offensive material is found
How to report it
What happens next
An internet website
  • Contact the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA)
  • The ACMA will investigate whether the material is prohibited content under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. Further information is available here.
  • The Commission will investigate whether the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 applies to the material and, where it can, will help you resolve your concerns. More information about the process is available here.
  • For serious complaints (for example, threats of violence) contact the Police by phoning 131 444. This is a national police assistance line which allows you to report crime over the phone.
  • It may be a criminal offence to publish the material on the Internet if it is is offensive, harassing or threatening. Most State and Territory Police services have special units working on computer crime and they may be able to help you further.
Social Networking Sites
  • Click the ‘report’ tab which appears alongside the content. You can also report abuse on Facebook through the Security Help Centre
  • A Facebook administrator will investigate whether the content should remain on the site or whether the user violates the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.
  • Click the ‘report abuse’ link found at the bottom of the profile.
  • More information is available at here.
  • Go to the user’s profile and click the ‘report abuse’ tab under their profile picture.
  • To flag a specific photo, video or widget to Bebo staff, simply click the link Report Abuse located below the content.
  • Bebo will review all reports of abuse, issue conduct warnings and cancel the membership of anyone found to be violating the member conduct policies. The user does not find out who reported them.
  • Go to the Help menu and click ‘report abuse’. You will be directed to fill out your email details and the abuser’s email, and detail the type of abuse. You will also be asked to provide some evidence of their behaviour.
  • MSN administrators will look into the report and possibly delete the offending person’s account.
  • Formspring staff will notify you they have received you report and will respond to your request.
  • More information about reporting harassment is available here
  • More information about abuse on twitter is available here.



5 What is the Australian Human Rights Commission doing on cyber-racism?

The Commission believes that violence, harassment and bullying are issues that profoundly affect the lives of thousands of Australians everyday. For this reason, ‘tackling violence, harassment and bullying’ is one of our priority themes.

With the proliferation of new communications technologies and the dramatic increase in use of the Internet and social networking sites, new arenas have been created in which harassment and bullying can take place. The Commission has taken steps to identify these issues and to address them with policy solutions.

For instance, on 27 April 2010, the Commission and the Internet Industry Association co-hosted a one-day summit on cyber-racism. More than 50 people attended the meeting, the purpose of which was to gain a better understanding of cyber-racism. One of the objectives identified by the various participants from government, industry and non-profit organisations was to work towards harnessing the positive potential of the Internet, social media and social marketing to educate the community about racism.

The Commission also investigates complaints with a view to conciliating them.

To this end, the Commission helps to resolve complaints from people alleging racial hatred on the Internet. In one example, a complainant advised the Commission of video footage, which had been loaded on a file sharing website, showing an incident involving a Pakistani woman. The complainant said that a site user had posted very derogatory comments about Pakistani people in response to the video footage. The comments included “f*****g rag heads” and “Silly sh*t smelling Pakis, they need to f**k off home.” When the Commission contacted the file sharing website about the complaint, the site removed the comments posed by the user and suspended the user from accessing the site. The complainant advised the Commission that he was satisfied with the prompt action take by the website.

Racism, of course, is not confined to the online environment. Therefore the Commission’s work in relation to racism also extends beyond cyber-racism. The Commission believes that promoting understanding of the impacts of racism in our communities can contribute to reducing the incidence of racially motivated violence, harassment and bullying. The Commission undertakes a wide range of activities to address racism. Among them is a research project entitled the Challenging Racism Project in which the Commission is a partner. The Challenging Racism Project aims to map racist attitudes and experiences of racism across Australia and to identify appropriate responses. [5] The report from this project is due in early 2011.

Similarly, violence, harassment and bullying are not confined to racially motivated conduct. The Commission is also planning and undertaking a wide range of activities to address violence, harassment and bullying. For instance, in 2011 the Commission will launch a new initiative aimed at empowering young people to stand up to bullying. It will emphasise the role bystanders should play in responding to bullying conduct.

Details of the Commission’s activities are set out in the Commission Plan 2010-2012, Our agenda, and the 2009-2010 Annual Report. Both documents are available online from our website.


6 Where can I get more information?

An Australian Government initiative which is designed to keep children and families safe online is the Cyber-safety Help Button. The button is a free application available from the website of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. Once downloaded, it sits on the computer desktop or within the taskbar. The button is a one-stop shop for cyber-safety information and help. The button is available for download from

The following organisations may also be able to assist you with information:

Australian Communication and Media Authority Email:
The Australian Human Rights Commission Phone 1300 656 419 or 02 9284 9888
Internet Industry Association Phone: 02 6232 6900



7 Other useful resources

Racism No Way


If you have been exposed to inappropriate content and would like to talk to someone contact:

Lifeline (ph: 13 11 14)

Reach Out

Kids Help Line (ph: 1800 55 1800)


[1] Ellen Messmer, Racism, hate, militancy sites proliferating via social networking, Network World, 29 May 2009; Simon Wiesenthal Center for Tolerance, Digital Terrorism and Hate 2010.
[2]UDHR (A.26(2)), ICESCR (A.13) and CROC (A.29(1)(d)); ICESCR A.12(2), CERD A.5(e)(i).
[3]UDHR (A.7), ICCPR (A.26), CERD, CEDAW, CROC (A.2).
[4] The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, United Nations, Durban Declaration and Program of Action, 2 January 2002.
[5] The project is led by Professor Kevin Dunn at the University of Western Sydney.