A new study from All Together Now (ATN), an Australian not-for-profit organisation promoting racial equity, found comment sections on racialised opinion pieces in Australia’s mainstream media are increasingly polarising readers and perpetuating Islamophobia.
The report titled Politely Racist released on Thursday 20 May 2021 explores online reader comments in response to negatively racialised opinion pieces about Muslim people and unravels the role played by comment sections in perpetuating, normalising and consolidating racist ideas.
From September 2020 to January 2021, ATN analysed comments posted by readers responding to 29 articles that contained negative opinions about Muslim Australians in three leading newspapers: The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Politely Racist is unique in that it explores and unravels the role played by online newspaper comment sections in perpetuating, normalising, and consolidating racist and Islamophobic ideas. Previous ATN studies found 53% of race-related social commentary articles which we monitored over 26 months contained overt or covert racism. This jumped to 78% when the piece was discussing Muslim people.
Key findings include:
Discussions taking place in these comment sections encourage opinion polarisation
Comment sections are a cradle for racist discourse where discriminatory ideas are polite enough in tone to pass moderation
The majority of commenters tend to voice their personal viewpoints without referring to any facts either related to the article content or their viewpoint.
All Together Now’s key recommendations include:
- Journalists need to consider more closely the effect of their work.
- All news organisations need to cultivate and maintain an anti-racist culture within their workplaces.
- Mainstream media organisations need to increase cultural diversity across all parts of their operations.
- The Federal Government and the media industry need to invest in media literacy education for audiences.
- The Federal Government needs to continue financial support for public journalism.
- All sectors of society need to invest in opportunities for independent journalism.