Cancelling memberships not enough to stop online abuse, says eSafety commissioner

“Just cancelling someone’s membership is not going to serve as an effective deterrent long term,” Ms Inman Grant told The Age.

“We are trying to encourage fans, in very positive and empowering ways, in the interests of improving the game, to monitor their own words and behaviour and calling out other fans.

“They [social media platforms] are building these roads, they need to make sure the guard-rails are in there … and police this more actively.

“AI [if developed and implemented by social media platforms] can capture a lot of this invective. A lot of the slurs you would see used against Indigenous players for instance could be picked up through AI if they deployed it.”

The eSafety commissioner’s office recently sent all 18 clubs education and action packs to help them deal with online abuse better and to help them educate their fans more strongly.

The AFL is also conducting a review of its 25-year-old discrimination and racial and religious vilification rule, with sources close to the work saying social media was set to fall under the rule’s updates.

Ms Inman Grant said it was likely education around abuse in footy, including the online space, would begin at Auskick level.

Her office worked over the weekend with the AFL and its integrity department to monitor racial abuse during the Sir Doug Nicholls Round.

Ms Inman Grant reported there was less abuse than expected, with the round usually the worst for instances of online racial vilification toward players, she said.

However, online abuse in all areas, not just toward AFL players, has increased overall during the pandemic.


“The pandemic has created this perfect storm of people feeling fear and uncertainty and doubt and anger. It is easy to sit behind the keyboard and shoot invective at other people,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“It is limited fan engagement with social distancing that the teams are having. People can fire off online without thinking about the consequences and in some ways they’re aren’t huge consequences at the moment, unless somebody decides to take them to court.”

The AFL recently made a private submission to a review of Australia’s Online Safety Act.

One of the government proposals supported by the AFL and the eSafety commissioner’s office is to make it easier to compel social media sites to take down online abuse toward adults.

“We have powers to compel take down of youth-based cyber bullying but we do not yet have powers to compel take down of cyber abuse directed at adults, particularly threatening ones,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“The social media sites get so much traffic that if you’re not reporting it then it often won’t get picked up.”

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