Shame on Facebook, but let’s not forget that racism is a wider public health problem
As of this moment, more than 10,000 people have signed this petition calling on Facebook to take down the racist attack on Indigenous Australians that is in the news. And more than 16,000 people have signed this one.
I wonder how many people from the health sector signed the petitions?
In the article below, Dr Tim Senior, a GP who works in Aboriginal health, argues that the health sector needs to step up to the plate in tackling racism. It is a public health issue well beyond the pages of Facebook.
Why Facebook should Unlike racism and the health sector needs to step up to the plate on racism
Dr Tim Senior writes:
Yesterday, news broke of a Facebook page called Aboriginal Memes, containing offensive stereotyping of Aboriginal people. Apparently, Facebook took the page down briefly, before reposting it with an addition to the title: “Controversial humour.”
I have had a look at the site, and I didn’t find any humour. I have written and performed comedy in a previous life, and my sense of humour hasn’t deserted me.
There was none there – just offensive racial vilification that made me feel sick. Humour doesn’t throw stones down from powerful to powerless – it throws rocks back up!
As of this morning, it looks like the original pages may have been taken down, but that the site appears to be back up, under a slightly different name (which I’ve reported to Facebook).
However, there will be many who say, that while they disagree profoundly with what is said, they believe that this is an issue of free speech.
If, for just a moment, we allow that as an argument, it does not follow that free speech means that your ideas aren’t challenged. If you are really going to make the free speech argument about offensive material such as this, then you also have to allow free speech to those vigorously opposed.
But what if the law were changed, so this wasn’t illegal, as Tony Abbott has suggested he might do. What if Facebook changed their community standards to allow for any sort of speech (except the depiction of breast feeding of course!)
Would there be any reason, then, to ask for the site to be removed? Is there any particular role of health professionals and health policy advocates? I believe there is.
It is already well established in tobacco control, seatbelt wearing and drink driving that the freedom to do something can be restricted by the excess risks this puts on people’s health.
Significantly, with all of these, the decision of one individual affects the health of others, through passive smoking (especially in children), and through traffic accidents to others.
The case is also being made convincingly in the availability of junk food (or “edible food like substances” as Michael Pollan correctly calls them). There is the start of a case being made for the health issues involved in man-made climate disruption, and in the health effects of inequality.
Which brings us to racism. There is a clear effect of the experience of racism on health. Some examples, quoted by Dr Angela Durey, who has researched the health effects of racism:
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