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Australian Voice Referendum Marred by Racism-Fuelled Falsehoods

Australian Voice Referendum Marred by Racism-Fueled Falsehoods

Amid the lead-up to Australia’s historic Voice to Parliament referendum, which could change the nation’s constitution for the first time in nearly five decades, disturbing trends of online disinformation and racism are causing growing concern.

Rise of Disinformation and Racial Abuse

Thomas Mayo, a prominent figure in the Yes campaign, has been a target of online abuse and disinformation. Racist memes portraying First Nations Australians in derogatory terms and personal threats have become distressingly common in the lead-up to the October 14 referendum.

While opinion polls initially showed strong support for the referendum, recent data suggests that the No vote is gaining ground. Many Yes campaigners attribute this shift to an alarming ecosystem of disinformation, which they claim is led by figures from the No camp and amplified by suspicious social media accounts.

Impact on First Nations Communities

As the debate becomes increasingly divisive and marked by racial abuse, concerns are mounting over the mental health of First Nations communities, who find themselves at the centre of this heated discourse. The referendum has also raised questions about whether Australia is prepared to address the deep-seated wounds in its nationhood, including historical massacres, land theft, and forced assimilation policies.

The Heart of the Voice Debate

At the core of the Voice referendum is a long-standing debate in Australia on how to address the stark disparities that persist among First Nations people, including disparities in health, wealth, and education. Supporters of the Voice argue that it will empower First Nations communities and promote self-determination, while opponents claim it will exert too much power and disrupt government processes.

The Role of Disinformation

Fact-checkers and monitors have observed that racial themes have dominated online discussions surrounding the referendum. False claims, misinformation, and conspiracy theories have been spread, with a notable increase in posts from those against the proposal. Some of these claims contain racist undertones and abusive language.

Social media experts working with the Yes campaign have identified “inauthentic” accounts engaging in bot-like behaviour, suggesting a deliberate attempt to manipulate social media algorithms and disseminate disinformation widely.

Mental Health Impact

Mental health agencies are reporting a significant increase in reports of online hate speech and abuse, with some attributing this surge to the referendum debate. Concerns are raised about the potential impact on the Aboriginal suicide rate and the responsibility of addressing the harm caused by disinformation.

The Debate Continues

Despite the recent drop in support in polls, Yes campaigners remain confident publicly. However, there is growing concern about the lasting scars the divisive referendum debate may leave, regardless of the outcome. The focus on addressing historical injustices and promoting unity has been overshadowed by the divisive and harmful nature of the discourse.

As Australia heads towards this pivotal referendum, the nation faces the challenge of navigating the complexities of its past and the impact of disinformation on its democratic processes.

Brini Wines