Over the past number of days, sporting stars have released direct messages and comments of racial abuse on their social media platforms. Famous National Rugby League (NRL) players, Latrell Mitchell and Blake Ferguson have been vilified by online trolls based on their indigenous heritage, however; this issue in Australia has persisted for many years. In 2013, Greg Inglis, another famous NRL player, was a target of cyber racism due to his support of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s, ‘Racism. It stops with me’ campaign.
Why do these attacks occur? It’s easy. It takes no skill or talent or critical thinking to target someone online regarding their cultural background. It can be done anonymously, and currently, the law is unable to change fast enough to keep up with the rapidly changing technological scene, leaving no serious consequence for these attacks. The messages are offensive and can have detrimental effects on the person reading them, leading to possible mental health issues and for some athletes, such as AFL star Adam Goodes, leaving the sport altogether.
Social media has provided society with so many new ways to communicate and has built bridges between people, but it has taken away an essential aspect of normal conversation, your voice. Although it may seem funny to call someone an offensive name online as ‘a joke’, there is no guarantee that the person on the other side of the phone will find it as funny as you, let alone funny at all. Moreover, social media takes away the personal interaction, which means that although calling someone “a monkey” online may seem fine, that same person would never say that same sentence in person.
There are 2 mains areas which need to urgently be addressed to decrease the number of victims of online racial abuse:
- Youth Education. Young people need to be educated on the different types of cultures and also the utilisation of social media productively. This must start young. Children are on social media while they are still early in primary school and education as this age can be crucial in ensuring the progression of acceptance of others and the use of social media as a positive tool.
- Stricter laws. The law needs to be faster in adapting to the changing technological climate and initiating harsher penalties for individuals utilising social media as a platform for hate. This is the case when abuse is publicised through sporting stars and when it is not publicised, through every day acts of racism online. Penalties need to be introduced which can act as a deterrent to others who are considering racially targeting someone
Online racial abuse is a problem which is only just starting to emerge but has the capacity to continue to grow and expand into a horrific force within social media. We must educate youth on the use of social media and the acknowledgement of other cultures while also introducing harsher penalties for trolls who act as if their words have no impact. Words are a sensitive tool which we all have, it is all about how we use it:
“Words. So powerful. They can crush a heart, or heal it. They can shame a soul, or liberate it. They can shatter dreams or energise them. They can obstruct connection, or invite it. They can create defences or melt them. We have to use words wisely” (Jeff Brown)