Journalism has a social media abuse problem (no, not that one)

A warning: this post contains republication of some confronting and unfiltered sexist and racist abuse, gathered from social media. I have chosen to republish it here to communicate the severity of the problem, but you can read a copy of this article with the abuse removed here, if you feel more comfortable not reading it. 

I recently wrote about something that really scares me. An Australian newspaper put two young women on its front page as punishment for them having lied on return to the state of Queensland, from Victoria. Both were named, their pictures splashed over the front page, and a truly astonishing tsunami of abuse poured out directed at them. They are young black women, and so much of the abuse was racist, sexist, or both.

The abuse poured out onto the comments sections of every social media site they featured on. Their names and faces were spread across News Corp outlets, the ABC, and Fairfax / Nine outlets. For a couple of days, their faces were everywhere.

The quantity of abuse

I never got the time to include it in my original post, but I collated comments from quite a few different posts into a single database. I used Facebook search to find as many posts as possible, but I didn’t have long time to do it, so this wasn’t a thorough or well controlled search. I found 21 unique posts, most from the Courier Mail, but with most of the comments concentrated around Pauline Hanson’s posts. There were 14,765 unique profiles publishing comments, with 20,372 unique comments. About 15k were original comments and about 5.5k were replies.

Source Post Count of Comments
Courier_Mail https://www.facebook.com/couriermail/posts/10158054680752702 1838
Courier_Mail https://www.facebook.com/couriermail/posts/10158056892992702?__tn__=-R 66
Courier_Mail https://www.facebook.com/couriermail/posts/10158057047142702?__tn__=-R 110
Courier_Mail https://www.facebook.com/couriermail/posts/10158057099242702?__tn__=-R 155
Courier_Mail https://www.facebook.com/couriermail/posts/10158057316167702?__tn__=-R 144
Courier_Mail https://www.facebook.com/couriermail/posts/10158057356897702 639
Courier_Mail https://www.facebook.com/couriermail/posts/10158057539132702?__tn__=-R 73
Courier_Mail https://www.facebook.com/couriermail/posts/10158057960027702?__tn__=-R 190
Courier_Mail https://www.facebook.com/couriermail/posts/10158059912312702?__tn__=-R 47
Courier_Mail https://www.facebook.com/couriermail/posts/10158060325762702?__tn__=-R 391
Courier_Mail https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=569380267072062&ref=watch_permalink 436
Hanson https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1653384068152529 4842
Hanson https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=303853840733805 5106
Hanson https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=762388941163376 3864
Herald_Sun https://www.facebook.com/heraldsun/posts/10157980968518171 496
Herald_Sun https://www.facebook.com/heraldsun/videos/vb.91269123170/359208608401162/?type=2&theater 41
LadBible https://www.facebook.com/LADbibleAustralia/posts/2447427958723412?__tn__=-R 461
LadBible https://www.facebook.com/LADbibleAustralia/posts/2447608748705333?__tn__=-R 167
SkyNews https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1418271421704810 589
SkyNews https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=288879522177848 583
SkyNews https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=307348540468439 134

I don’t have the time nor the capabilities to do a proper analysis of the text, but the most I can do is detect the incidence of certain words, almost solely used in a specific context.

1,096 comments used the word ‘deport’. 544 used the word ‘black’. 70 used ‘African’, and 50 used ‘coloured. 21 used ‘monkey’ and 41 used ‘baboon’. 393 used ‘bitch’, 354 used ‘botox’. 43 used ‘cunt’ and 18 used ‘whore’. Calls for deportation were the most widely used racist reaction to the articles (despite the occasional response pointing out the women were both Australian citizens born in the country).

Comments by source

Mentions by source

These numbers tell you the scale, but obscure the ferocity. Here is a selection of the ones that mention the word ‘monkeys’:

“Another monkeys arse lips “
“As their faces are exact copies of a baboons backside, they should be locked up with the other monkeys, only they’d scare them to death.”
“Dead set monkeys are smarter than this pair throw the book at them then deport”
“I’m probably the one he’s accusing of racist because I called them Monkeys,but I was simply referring to their lips and a picture someone put on Facebook of two monkeys arses ,dickheads are quick to call in the racist game not once did I mention colour or nationalities,just proves the whole family are FUCKWITS”
“It’s always desert monkeys”
“Look at these ugly fucks lock them up at the zoo thay look like monkeys poor monkeys”
“megafugly c@#$ need more then makeup I’ve seen better looking monkeys”
“Not racism but changing your face to look like a monkeys butt hole is a worry.”
“Prison for these two little trolops. The brother has less of an IQ than a monkey….”
“She’s got a head like a monkey’s arse!”
“Show us your best monkey’s ass face. “
“Stupid monkey”
“They just look like monkeys ignores no Brian ?”
“they look like one of those red assed monkeys at the zoo”
“Thick as monkey’s”
“Throw the monkeys in jail ,”
“yeah. Fkn monkeys “
“Two fucking Ugly whores lips like a monkeys arse.”
“Two selfish rags lock them up like monkeys and throw peanuts at them”
“Ugly as a monkey’s arsehole”
“you mean these two monkeys and ugly bitches ? they both deserve a fxxxg bullet in between the eyes”

This is some of the gendered abuse:

“5 years is good i like it but these cunts will get a slap on the wrist as thet are black african”
“fuckin cunts need to be locked up “
“All these cunts know to do is pull the race card coz they know they’ll get sympathy from far left nut jobs. Anyone who pulls that race card is a full blown fucking racist themselves. Im so tired of the reverse rasicm going on around the world”
“Black lives matter, there not white people.Ohh suffer you cunts , don’t think your imunine”
“Brooke Bloomer take a look at these two absolute cunts”
“Cunts”
“Cunts don’t even look Aussie!!! Jail the pricks gold fish piped moles”
“and the cunting brother pulls the racist card .. FFS!! “
“Deport the cunts”
“Deport the cuntsPlain an simple”
“DEPORT THE SCUM ##### CUNTS!”
“Didn’t know dumb cunts was a race. Well you learn something new everyday “
“Dumb cunts….chuck them in jail “
“Fake ass hookers !!! Lock the cunts up”
“Fuckin cunts”
“Fucking duck faced cunts”
“Fucking Low Molls should be deported back to Somalia or wherever the Cunts come from !!!”
“Get them out of our country we don’t need more dumb cunts here”
“Hahaha suck a dick ya ugly cunts!!”
“I am sick of these black cunts claiming racism every time they do wrong. “
“Im not racist I married a black woman but these black cunts should be imprisoned to show the rest of the country that this is important we do the right thing to protect everyone in our once great country.”
“Is that it? $4000 for putting others lives in danger…. cunts are fucked”
“Jail is the only way that these cunts will learn. Monetary deductions aren’t the deterrent. Jail will work. “
“Just deport them now, I don’t want my taxes to go towards feeding these cunts”
“Lock the cunts up”
“Lock the cunts up “
“Lock the stupid cunt up the. “
“Matta Facta they cant just accept the fact that they fucked up accept responsibility, they try and pull the your only picking on me cause I’m of colour, well no it’s cause you both are a set of dumb cunts 😂😂😂”
“Oh shut up woman.. there 19 year old kids .. used as scapegoats.. all just for the public to push there anger into something other then themselves .. you cunts should be ashamed of ya selves .. “
“Phew I thought I was the ugliest cunt alive after looking at these two it makes me feel a whole lot better “
“Pulls the race card You weak cunt🖕😎”
“Seriously enough of everyone’s picking on me because I’m black,get over it no one cares people are angry because they are self centred little cunts not because they are black “
“Shut up you cuntflap”
“Straight up, if ONE person tests positive from where these CUNTS were, and ONE person dies because of these CUNTS, it’s MANSLAUGHTER, sorry, I wish it could be murder but according to the law you have to go out and plan to kill someone, possibly like most Australians would like to do to these imbeciles “
“The cunts need conduit feed up there ass followed by a role of Barbwire.”
“Those lips are so dysfunctional yuck send the cunts back to there country.”
“Throw them in jail.isolation.dumb cunts.”
“Yep they are just selfish arsoles!! I actually didn’t notice they were of any colour until I heard the bother going boo hoo you are all picking on them because they are black… NO you dopey dickhead it’s because they are selfish cunts!”

The scale and severity of this response was unique. After this, a large number of similar incidents occurred, but neither health and police authorities or media outlets decided to leak or publish the personal details of the people breaching regulations. I detail many of them in this thread:

I struggled to find abuse of any kind in these comment sections, and certainly didn’t find a single instance of racist or sexist abuse.

The Courier Mail, the ABC, and Fairfax / Nine were certainly under no illusions about what the consequences for the two young women would be. But the advent of the utilisation of traditional media and social media as a machine for creating direct, serious and severe abuse of women of colour who breach COVID19 controls came and went, with near zero criticism and zero introspection from influential media personalities, in Australia.

 

The glass jaw is functional, not decorative

A week or so onwards, and a chorus breaks out across Australian journalism Twitter, defending a News Corp journalist against tweets she’d received that were abusive, in response to her questioning of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews:

It is, of course, incredibly easy to ‘simulate’ someone’s experience on Twitter. Simply type ‘to:‘ and someone’s handle into the search field, and you see everything they’re sent.

There is no way to deny the fact that journalists – particularly journalists who are women of colour – cop specific and ferocious abuse in response to their work. There is also no denying the fact that Daniel Andrews’ hardcore supporters are becoming uglier on Twitter, as I discovered when I critiqued the idea of sending armed police in as a response to coronavirus outbreaks in public housing towers.

This cannot be viewed independently of the fact that the industry has begun using racist and sexist social media abuse as a weapon for punishing violations of public health protection, with near zero criticism of this approach from within its ranks. That one form of abuse is met with collective outrage and another isn’t just tolerated but stoked and worsened is an incredibly ugly situation.

I pointed this out to Hamish Macdonald, the ABC’s host of Q&A, and was blocked in response. What is happening here is that discussing the towering imbalance of power here is seen by those who hold that power as apologetics for abuse directed at their friend. This serves to bat away threats to the power imbalance. It is exhausting and ridiculous, but that is a feature, not a bug.

Of course, there is a historical precedent I mentioned in my previous post. News Corp and Daily Mail outlets in Australia led a year-long campaign against an individual – Yassmin Abdel Magied – as a demonstration of the consequences of stepping out of line of behavioural norms established by white Australians. The journalist who has drawn the messages of support, and has spoken out against abuse, wrote many of the articles that played a key role in inciting the racist and Islamaphobic response against Abdel Magied:

YAM1YAM2YAM3YAM4YAM5

As I detailed here, that campaign led to a nearly unquantifiable quantity of threats and abuse on social media, which immediately bled into a real life consequences for Abdel Magied:

“I wake up every morning and the first thing I do is look at my phone, because that’s what we all do. And I’m greeted with hundreds of, pretty much most days, hundreds of messages on my Facebook, my Twitter, my Instagram, my inbox, of, you know. The fact that I’m a troubled person. I should die. I’m called everything under the sun. People send me screenshots of the guns they think I should be killed by, I get death threats sent to my PO box, my youth organisation’s PO box. It’s every day. And It’s in every social space that I engage in”

As is always the case, that and this tie neatly together. In May this year, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer tweeted about Captain bloody Cook, and that spurred a campaign from News Corp outlets to have her sacked – in the middle of a pandemic. Guess who reported on what Yassmin Abdel Magied said about that? There’s more than 3,000 comments on the article. I wonder what they say?

YAM CHO

There is a specific reason that these people want to have a conversation about social media abuse while aggressively avoiding eye contact with what is happening within their industry. Social media is an algorithmic amplifier of human emotion – we all know that because we hear it constantly.

What we do not often hear is the role of social media as a massive gravity well for sucking up human beings and making them click on hyperlinks to struggling websites. There is a neat convergence here between the bigotry of conservative journalists and the tsunami of advertising revenue that comes from stoking an abusive response using social media’s capability for finding and serving up hungry racists.

Pair that with the righteous, blunt, authoritarian instincts around the public health response to COVID19, and you get the Courier Mail, and Pauline Hanson. Pair that further with the complicit silence of hundreds of people who have the power to stop it, but don’t, and you have a brewing disaster.

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