Call for creators of hate pages to be prosecuted

Last updated 17:51 18/10/2012

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A leading Australian cyber-safety campaigner has called on police to prosecute the creators of hate pages on social media following Facebook's decision to close down a page mocking Jill Meagher, the 29-year-old Brunswick woman abducted and killed last month.

Susan McLean, who spent 27 years with Victoria Police before launching her cyber safety consultancy three years ago, said police have the ability to prosecute the creators of pages that are in breach of Australian laws but appear to be unwilling to use it.

Speaking of the Facebook page that made claim to the protective cloak of "controversial humour" while hosting deeply offensive material that supported rape and murder, McLean suggested campaigners who were angry at Facebook were misdirecting their anger.

"We can be up in arms when this sort of thing happens - and it will happen again - but what must happen is that the people posting this stuff are tracked down and charged," she said. "There have been many cases in the UK where these people have been hunted down and charged and jailed. We need to do that in Australia."

McLean claimed police already have powers to pursue posters of such content. Under section 474.17 of the Commonwealth Crimes Act, it is an offence to use "a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence", punishable by three years in jail.

"In other words, if you use a telecommunications device to offend someone, that's a crime," she said. Police were "pretty much laughing there", she added.

Despite police claims in the wake of the Jill Meagher case that Facebook had refused to take down offending material, Ms McLean insisted "Facebook will act", though the American company's response was not "instantaneous" and could typically take three days.

But she added that the company would not remove material simply because it was distasteful. "If it breaches their terms and conditions of use - there's a whole range of criteria including race hate, hate speech, pornography - it gets removed. If it's illegal for the local area, it gets removed. But they won't remove things simply because they are distasteful or you don't like them. They don't censor, so to speak."

McLean said she has a good relationship with Facebook that dates back to her time with Victoria Police but insisted she receives no inducement of any sort from the company.

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- The Age


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