Last night Vlad and I posted our joint venture about Mohammed and his imaginary friend. Little did we realize that by doing so, we may have violated the law in Australia. Anyone from Down Under who accessed our posts and was offended by what we said is entitled to make a complaint to the Australian Communication and Media Authority, a service of the Australian Human Rights Commission.
ACMA maintains a webpage about “cyber racism” that advises offended people — the photo at the top of the page shows a Muslima, presumably the most likely person to take offense — about what recourse is available to them when they are insulted by a website.
The provisions of the law are fascinating, and frightening. Note: the original text really does skip from item #6 to item #8. Whatever item #7 was, it has been removed:
1. What is cyber racism?
Cyber racism is a term used for racism on the internet. It includes racist websites, images, blogs, videos and comments on web forums.
2. Does the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) apply to racist websites?
Yes, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (‘the RDA’) does apply to racist websites. The RDA has a section on racial hatred (section 18C) that says that any public act that is reasonably likely, in all circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate people on the basis of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin, is unlawful unless it is done reasonably and in good faith in certain specific circumstances.
Because the RDA only applies to public acts, websites that are private and not easily accessible (for example, those that are password protected) are unlikely to be covered.
Therefore, if you are offended or insulted because of your race by a website, or material on a website, which you have viewed in Australia, you may complain to the Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission). A good example of a case on racist websites is Jones v. Toben.1 There, the Federal Court of Australia found that the website of the ‘Adelaide Institute’ breached the provisions of the RDA. Mr. Toben, the director of the Adelaide Institute, was ordered to remove from the website of his institute comments which denied the Holocaust and were offensive to Jewish people.
3. What if the website is made or hosted by an overseas company or entity?
It does not matter if the website is hosted or created overseas. If you are able to access the website in Australia and it offends you on the basis of your race, you can lodge a complaint of racial hatred under the RDA with the Commission.
4. Who is responsible?
It is sometimes difficult to identify the people responsible for putting racist material onto websites. People who create websites or post messages may do so under a different name than their own and it can be difficult to track them down. To make a complaint under the RDA, you need to be able to identify the person or provide information that would enable the person to be identified (or, in some cases, the company a person works for) whose acts you are complaining about.
There are several different parties that could be involved in an incident of cyber racism: the internet service provider, the content host, the creator of the website, or the person who has posted a comment, video or blog on a website. Depending upon the level of involvement in the incident and what outcome you want to achieve, you might seek to make a number of different parties responsible.
5. Is it a criminal offence to have a racist website?
Racist material on the internet that is offensive, harassing or threatening may also be a criminal offence under Commonwealth as well as State and Territory law. This will depend upon the nature of material published. If you are harassed or threatened by cyber racism you should contact your local Police.
Most State and Territory Police squads have special units working on computer crime and they may be able to help you further.
6. Is there a Government body which monitors racist websites who I can contact to have websites taken from the air?
The Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) is the federal agency which deals with prohibited content. Usually prohibited content will be excessively violent or of a sexual nature but on occasion ACMA also deals with complaints about racist internet content. For further information on which internet content ACMA considers prohibited, please refer to their website www.acma.gov.au
8. Who should I contact?
The Australian Human Rights Commission
Complaints info line 1300 656 419 or 02 9284 9888.
Fax (02) 9284 9611
A complaint can be made in any language
Australian Communication and Media Authority
ACMA has offices throughout Australia. For your nearest ACMA office please refer to their website: www.acma.gov.au
To make a complaint about internet content, please complete the relevant online complaint form or email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Jones v. Toben  FCA 1150 (17 September 2002) and Toben v. Jones  FCAF 137 (27 June 2003).
Hat tip: shirlinoz.