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Australia's Race Discrimination Commissioner has rung the warning bell on cyber racism, saying networking sites are increasingly being used to air racist sentiments.
In Perth to address University of WA students on race and patriotism, Tim Soutphommasane expressed concern about what he said was a "very marked increase" in cyber-racism complaints.
Complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission citing racial hatred rose 59 per cent in 2012-13, fuelled in part by a surge in cyber-racism complaints. Cyber racism accounted for 41 per cent of the racial hatred complaints, up from 17 per cent the previous year.
"These are all reminders we cannot be complacent about racism," Dr Soutphommasane told _The West Australian. _
"While over the long run we have done very well and we have been an open and generous country, we cannot take this for granted.
"We see a lot of racism now being aired on Facebook or through YouTube. This adds a new dimension to the challenge of fighting racism.
"There was a very marked increase in cyber-racism complains in the past year. It's still too early to know whether it's a definitive trend … but there's enough there to suggest we have to take care and monitor it."
One Facebook page dubbed "completely inappropriate" by then communications minister Stephen Conroy for its racist depictions of Aboriginal people, was posting again this month despite all but shutting down in 2012 after bad publicity and an online petition that got more than 20,000 signatures.
Yesterday, the Royal Australian Navy confirmed it was investigating allegations some of its members belonged to a Facebook group called Australian Defence League, which claims to protect the rights "of all people to protest against radical Islam's encroachment into the lives of non-Muslims".
Dr Soutphommasane said Australia should not forget it had "been a tremendous success as a multicultural society".
"We have absorbed millions of migrants into our national community without social fragmentation, certainly without the kind of social fragmentation that you've seen in Europe, but racism remains, and the need to combat racism should continue to be a priority when we consider our social cohesion," he said.