Facebook is facing a barrage of criticism in Australia over a page that many users see as overtly racist. The page, titled "Aboriginal memes," features photos of Aboriginal people alongside captions that mock their tribal lifestyle and socio-economic status. The photos also deride Aborigines for draining Australia's welfare programs, and characterize them as drug and alcohol abusers.
These photos are clearly styled as humorous memes, but many don't see them that way. Hundreds of users have filed complaints with Facebook, requesting that the page be removed on the grounds that it promotes hate speech.
The social network responded to complaints with the following message: "Thanks for your recent report of a potential violation on Facebook. After reviewing your report, we were not able to confirm that the specific page you reported violates Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities."
The identity of the page's founder remains unknown, though SBS News believes it may have been created by a 16-year-old boy from Perth. As of this writing, it boasts more than 4,300 fans. According toThe Age, the page was briefly taken down last night, though it has since been reinstated with an amended title: "[Controversial Humour] Aboriginal memes".
It seems likely that this change was made to align with Facebook's policy on hateful content. The site's Community Standards page expressly prohibits hate speech, though it acknowledges that where some users may see malice, others see humor. Here's Facebook's exact definition of what constitutes hate speech:
Content that attacks people based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease is not allowed. We do, however, allow clear attempts at humor or satire that might otherwise be considered a possible threat or attack. This includes content that many people may find to be in bad taste (e.g. jokes, stand-up comedy, popular song lyrics, etc.).
By this definition, it's difficult to see how racially-motivated jokes could possibly be interpreted as "humor or satire," though Facebook has yet to comment on its interpretation of 'Aboriginal memes.' In an e-mail to SBS News, a company spokesperson said, "We have nothing to share at this time but will let you know if that changes."
The page may run afoul of Australian law, as well, since the country's Racial Discrimination Act 1975 outlaws any offensive behavior motivated by a person's "race, colour or national or ethnic origin." The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), Australia's web regulatory body, has also launched an investigation into the page, in response to user complaints.
Update: The content from the page has been removed and later the page is still active, although it's unclear if this a result of action by the author or Facebook. We've reached out to Facebook for comment.
Update 2: Now the page is gone entirely.