Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has hit out at Facebook over its failure to immediately take down a page that stereotyped Aborigines as hopeless, petrol-sniffing drunks.
While the content could not be viewed yesterday, Conroy said Facebook should have shut down the site as soon as it was brought to its attention and urged more cooperation from the social network.
“I think it’s absolutely inappropriate,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp late on Wednesday of the page “Controversial Humor Aboriginal Memes.”
“We don’t live by American laws here in Australia; we live by Australian laws and this is an Australian who is using the fact that Facebook is based in the US to get away from Australian laws,” he said.
An online petition against the page on change.org had by yesterday attracted nearly 17,000 supporters and the Australian Media and Communications Authority said it was investigating.
Conroy said he was in touch with Facebook more broadly about inappropriate content.
“We’ve had a lot of debate and discussion with Facebook. They’ve now finally employed an employee here in Australia. We’re in conversations with that employee,” he said. “Our views have been strongly made to Facebook in the US, but at the end of the day, it’s a US company operating under US law.”
Facebook could not be reached yesterday, but in a one-line statement to the Australian newspaper, it reportedly said: “We don’t have anything to share on this, but if that changes, we’ll let you know.”
Asked if Australia had any power to take down a site generated in Australia, Conroy said they had tried before and got nowhere.
“In the past, there’s been a whole range of pages, not just on Facebook, but on other sites where people have made complaints,” he said. “We’ve gone to the courts, the courts have issued notices, the police have gone to enforce them over in the US and in the past, we’ve got nowhere.”
Race Discrimination Commissioner Helen Szoke said if people felt offended by the page they could also complain to the Australian Human Rights Commission.
“In the last three years, we have had an increasing number of complaints related to cyberracism,” Szoke told reporters. “I have had a look at the images, and I do think they’re quite insulting to Aboriginal people. There’s a tipping point between humor and even controversial humor and material that’s just offensive and just insulting.”