Building SMARTER Communities of Resistance and Solidarity

Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: an Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2018
ISSN 1837-5391 | Published by UTS ePRESS |


Building SMARTER Communities of Resistance and Solidarity

Andre Oboler1 and Karen Connelly2

1 La Trobe University, Australia

2 University of Technology Sydney, Australia

Corresponding author: Andre Oboler, La Trobe Law School, Plenty Rd & Kingsbury Drive, Bundoora, Melbourne, Victoria 3086, Australia.


Article History: Received 15/04/2018; Revised 01/06/2018; Accepted 02/06/2018; Published 26/07/2018

Citation: Oboler, A. and Connelly, K. 2018. Building SMARTER Communities of Resistance and Solidarity. Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: an Interdisciplinary JournalCosmopolitan Civil Societies: an Interdisciplinary Journal, 10(2), 91-110.

DECLARATION OF CONFLICTING INTEREST The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. FUNDING This paper was supported though funding for Karen Connelly’s doctoral research provided by a University of Technology Sydney HDR Stipend ($85,000) and a Deakin University HDR supplement ($21,000).


The Cyber-Racism and Community Resilience (CRaCR) project included an examination into features of online communities of resistance and solidarity. This work formed a key part of the project’s focus on resilience and produced a deeper understanding of a range of types of actors working in this space and how they might individually contribute effectively to creating resilience. The need for new synergies between different types of stakeholders and approaches was highlighted as an area for future work. This paper explores a design for that future work that builds and supports online communities of resistance and solidarity by drawing on and extending the lessons from the CRaCR research. This new work both presents a model for cooperation and explains how different stakeholders can positively engage under the model in a SMARTER way. That is, through a system which facilitates Solidarity in Moving Against Racism Together while Enabling Resilience. This new approach draws on the strengths of individuals actors, but also seeks to turn points of weakness for one actor into opportunities for cooperation that strengthen the system as a whole.


Racism, Cyber-Racism, Resilience, Online Communities, Solidarity Society


Cyber racism includes both the reproduction of everyday racism by individuals on the Internet and the exploitation of the Internet by racist groups (Jakubowicz 2012, Daniels 2012, Tynes, Rose & Markoe 2013). Individuals and groups are emboldened by the openness and lack of consequences of the Internet, while racist groups use it to consolidate their identity and popularise their ideology by recruiting supporters and building online communities (Bliuc, Faulkner & Jakubowicz 2016). Racist online communities engage in activities that aim to fragment targeted communities’ online presence, hindering the targets ability to develop effective communities of resistance and solidarity.

Academics have been raising awareness of the need for multi-faceted anti-racism responses that acknowledge the entrenched nature and varied experiences of all forms of racism in Australia (Berman & Paradies 2010, Nissim 2014, Pedersen, Walker, Paradies & Guerin 2011). Anti-racist NGOs have been running practical campaigns directly with the community; for example All Together Now focuses on encouraging people to embrace cultural diversity and to work towards the eradication of everyday racism (All Together Now 2017). Governments have generally focused on approaches based on formal channels of communication and engagements working with targeted communities through peak community representative bodies, service provision organisations or local governments (Paradies et al. 2009; Office for the Community Sector 2013; Victorian Auditor-General’s Office 2015). Online racism, when addressed at all, has been seen as an adjunct to racism more generally (Jakubowicz et al. 2017). Engagement with new technology in anti-racism efforts has focused primarily on marketing (Jakubowicz et al. 2017).

With the growing problem of online racism, and a general lack of technological expertise by those actors traditionally relied upon to tackle racism, new actors have emerged. These new actors have created innovative approaches, reactions, responses and initiatives that are specifically focused on the problem of online racism and tackle it with digitally native responses. The Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI) and IndigenousX are two examples. These new kinds of actors can work collaboratively within formal structures, or may be driven by grassroots activists working outside the traditional structures. New technologies enable their approaches, which are centred around online communities. These communities can be stable and long lasting, or ad hoc communities formed through existing online networks where people gather for a short and focused campaign and then disperse.

Past work has looked at the different approaches used, and their strengths and weaknesses, across both the traditional approaches by government agencies, local governments, community service providers, and community peak bodies, and the new approaches by natively digital civil society organisations and grassroots groups (Jakubowicz et al. 2017). To be more effective, online communities of resistance and solidarity need to bring together both the flexibility and energy of the new organisations and grassroots groups and the formal authority that comes from the endorsement and support of governments and peak community representative bodies. A synergy is needed to bring together diverse stakeholders with approaches that build on their different strengths. New policy responses are needed to facilitate this synergy in order to create more effective online communities of resistance to cyber racism and greater solidarity in the face of cyber racism.

In this paper we introduce a model for cooperation that that draws on the strength of different kinds of stakeholders. We highlight how cooperation under the model we present can create a greater overall benefit, as well as directly benefiting each stakeholder. The model turns current weaknesses into points for cooperation, making them areas of strength. The model builds a SMARTER system, one that facilitates Solidarity in Moving Against Racism Together while Enabling Resilience. We explain the different features of this model and then look at the way it can be practically implemented through the support of a suite of specially developed Internet-based tools.

The paper begins by considering the cast of actors which can play different roles in the SMARTER system. The strengths and weaknesses of these actors when it comes to building resilient communities are then considered. We recap on the idea of actors assisting others by being either a source or an amplifier, then introduce the SMARTER approach which allows integrated responses in which many actors can work together. The three elements of the SMARTER approach are next considered in more depth, first the concept of Solidarity, then the idea of Moving Against Racism Together and finally the idea of Enabling Resilience. The ideas are brought together with a consideration of the integrated system and the additional benefits this brings. The concept is, however, impractical without a degree of automation. In the final section before concluding this paper we introduce Fight Against Hate Version 2 and CSI-CHAT, the technology built to support a SMARTER response. The paper concludes by reflecting on the overall approach as supported by the technology.

The Cast of Actors

An online community is ‘a group of people who regularly interact with each other online, especially to share information and opinions on a common interest’ (Oxford Dictionaries 2017). A successful community creates a sense of belonging and fosters active engagement by its members making it a shared space rather than a publishing platform for the community manager (Jakubowicz et al. 2017). Communities can be focused on addressing online hate, or that may be a small part of a broader agenda. Where efforts do tackle online hate, they may focus on a specific type of hate, or they may tackle online hate impacting a range of different groups in society. Communities can be designed to be permanent or they can be designed to be ad hoc, bringing people together to tackle an issue of the moment. Behind each community there are actors who create, promote and manage that community. These actors also frame the discussion and moderate the messages from community members. They set the boundaries that define the community.

The Cyber-Racism and Community Resilience (CRaCR) project considered a wide range of actors engaged in building communities of solidarity and five categories of actors emerged (Jakubowicz. 2017). Affiliated Civil Society Organisations, such as IndigenousX or the Islamic Council of Victoria, are civil society organisations affiliated with a particular target group. These organisations bring authenticity to the fight against racism by sharing experiences of racism and its impact on individuals in their community and on the community as a whole. They can sway disengaged bystander to solidarity by creating empathy and using emotion as a strength. They often have the trust of the targeted community who see them acting in the community’s interest. Peak community bodies are a special class of Affiliated Civil Society Organisation whose representative role is usually recognised both by the community and government.

General Civil Society Organisations, such as the Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI), All Together Now, and the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils of Australia (FECCA), are not affiliated with a particular community but rather work across many communities. FECCA is a special case, being a national peak body whose affiliates are state based General Civil Society Organisations. By contrast, both the members of FECCA’s state based affiliates and FECCAs own associate members tend to be Affiliated Civil Society Organisations. FECCA is therefore general by virtue of being an umbrella that brings together, directly and through its affiliates indirectly, affiliated organisations representing many different targeted communities. OHPI and All Together Now by contrast are broad based organisations that are not affiliated with specific communities and tackle racism targeting many different communities. General Civil Society Organisations have strength as authoritative non-partisan experts able to make an objective and non-emotional assessment around issues of racism and its impact. With a wider supporter base in the general community, they are able to raise broader public awareness and engagement. They are often able to focus more narrowly on tackling racism compared to affiliated organisations who are also looking after many other needs of their community. Peak bodies like FECCA can play a unique role in building solidarity, allowing communities to help each other through explicit assurances of mutual solidarity which the peak body can coordinate.

Government Agencies bring the greatest sense of formal authority but are constrained in their actions by their remit and their need to remain impartial. They have the ability to provide resources to civil society organisations and can lend their authority to those organisations by demonstrating the government’s trust in them and commitment to their work. The agencies themselves can also use their authority when providing factual information to the public, for example by listing and explaining relevant laws and individual rights. Two examples of Government Agencies considered in the CRaCR project are the Australian Human Rights Commission and VicHealth.

Academic researchers, such as the CRaCR team, themselves form a category of actor. Academics generally do not build their own communities to combat cyber-racism, however, their work supports existing communities by giving them insight, information and a springboard for community discussion that keeps members engaged. Information from Academics is crucial to countering racist discourses and can help community leaders shape their strategy and act more effectively. Some Academics may also have other roles, for example, as board members of either Affiliated or General Civil Society Organisations and as such may belong to that category of actor when acting in that alternative capacity.

Grassroots Groups, often forms around specific campaigns, these are the final type of actor. They differ from Civil Society Organisations in that they are ad hoc communities created through the actions of individuals rather than organisations. They may in time gain a sustainable structure and become either an Affiliated or General Civil Society Organisation, or they may disperse as their campaign reaches its conclusion or energy fades. An example is a Grassroots Group formed in 2017 around the campaign run on the GoFundMe platform which raised $100,000 within 24 hours. The trigger was the cancellation of a billboard advertising campaign that showed Muslim girls celebrating Australia Day. The ads had been pulled after the operators received death threats from far-right anti-Islamic groups. The Grassroots Group raised funds to replace the billboards in time to celebrate Australia Day (Madigan 2017).

It is important to note that all of these categories of actors can include both actors dedicated to anti-racism work and actors whose focus is in other areas, but who have a capacity to make a positive contribution to combating cyber-racism and building resilient communities.

Strengths and Weaknesses in Community Building

Communities can proactively engage in tackling racism by promoting positive values, strengthening inter-groups relations, highlighting the harm racism causes, educating the public to better recognise racism, countering structural racism built into historical and other narratives, and promoting narratives that normalise positive intergroup relations. They can reactively tackle racism by calling out racism, working to remove racist content and disproving racist narratives. The five types of actors we have introduced have different areas of strength and weakness when it comes to these forms of engagement. Table 1 and Table 2 show the general effectiveness of the different actors for the different types of approaches (Jakubowicz et. al 2017).

Table 1 Reactive modes of engagement
Affiliated Civil Society Organisations General Civil Society Organisations Government Agencies Academics Grassroots Group
Calling out racism Yes. Public statements. Yes. Public statements / educational campaigns. A little. Through statements. No Yes
Working to remove racist content Yes. Public statements / campaigns. Yes. Public statements / campaigns. Yes in a limited way through the media / approaches to companies in extreme cases. No Yes
Disproving racist narratives No Yes. Public campaigns. A little. Through statements / speeches. Yes Yes

Table 2 Proactive modes of engagement
Affiliated Civil Society Organisations General Civil Society Organisations GovernmentAgencies Academics Grassroots Group
Promoting positive values Yes Yes Yes No Unlikely
Strengthening inter-groups relations Yes Yes Yes. Through event funding. No Unlikely
Highlighting Harm in racism Yes. Through personal narratives. Yes. Research & Campaigns. A little. Through statements. Yes. Research. Unlikely
Education to recognise racism Yes. Introducing themselves. Yes. Publications. A little. Online resources. A little. Research but needs conversion for public impact. Unlikely
Countering historical and other narratives Yes Possibly. No. Yes. Yes
Narratives normalising positive intergroup relations Yes Yes A little. Through promoting Government support. No. Yes

For all actors, the key challenge in creating a vibrant online community of resilience is promoting interactions and engagements by the online audience. This requires the use of the social media channel, or other technology platform, in a way that goes beyond advertising the sponsoring organisation, publishing organisational news or creating a feed of anti-racism news stories. A feature of successful online communities of resilience is their ability to create a ‘safe space’ for their audience, that is, one in which they feel protected from the abuse they may encounter elsewhere and free to participate, express their views and share their experiences.

Government Agencies, while bringing a formal authority to anti-racism work, can face constraints in the scope of their activities and the manner in which they engage with the public through social media. This can, paradoxically, see the spaces they manage become ‘unsafe spaces’ due to a caution over government censorship if abusive voices are silenced. Government Agencies may also choose not to provide a community space at all and may limit public communications with them to private correspondence to avoid such problems. The policies of political parties can also have a stifling effect on the level and types of engagement by Government Agencies. While proposed legislative changes to weaken section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act were blocked by the Australian Senate in March 2017, watering down the protections against racial discrimination remains Coalition policy (Hutchens and Murphy, 2017). This may increase civil servants caution in engaging with the problem and reduce the priority of combating cyber-racism when compared to similar and often related issues such as cyber-bullying or violent extremism, both of which are given far greater attention by the Australian government.

Grassroots campaigns usually focus on a burning issue. With a native base in the technology, they are able to swiftly create large and effective communities in social media, or through online platforms such as petition sites or crowdfunding platforms. They lack the infrastructure for long term sustainability and are usually based on the unpaid efforts of a few individuals who can rapidly reach the point of burnout. Grassroots Group activism has a huge potential but on its own lacks the ability to fully capitalise on that potential for sustained growth or the formal authority and resources needed to move beyond online activism. Without paid staff the level of activity is difficult to sustain.

General Civil Society Organisations combating online racism can apply lessons learned in tackling one kind of hate to their efforts tackling hate targeting other groups. They can attract supporters who are focused on one kind of hate when they engage with that hate, then broaden those community members’ understanding to also include other forms of online hate. Not everyone will stay on that journey, but the approach allows a core of supporters to be created from across many different target groups as well as the broader community. Despite having a wider base, the depth of support for General Civil Society Organisations may, however, be significantly lower from within each target group. Supporters may become aware of an issue through a General Civil Society Organisation and promote that organisation’s work tackling cyber-racism targeting their own community, but then focus their charitable giving not on the General Civil Society Organisation they have engaged with, but rather on an Affiliated Civil Society Organisation which is more strongly linked to their community. This can occur regardless of the relative effectiveness of the two organisations and General Civil Society Organisations may therefore face greater sustainability difficulties.

Affiliated Civil Society Organisations will generally have a broader remit than online racism and as a result may need to be selective and limit the amount of focus they give to activities combating online racism. A failure to do this may cause their audience to drift away. By only occasionally tackling online racism such organisations are able to support short high energy campaigns when the community they represent is under significant threat. These organisations may find it difficult to support campaigns targeting other communities except in exceptional circumstances.

Academics can play a significant role in building resilience in online communities. Their strength comes from their expertise and ability to disprove racist narratives, fact check and expose the fake news that feeds racism, and educate online community members on the real harm of racism. For example, after years of academic work, the psychological and physiological impacts of racism are now well established (Department of Health and Human Services 2017). Without Academics to share and explain this, the impact of racism is too often dismissed as nothing more than ‘hurt feelings’. Academics, however, are not well placed to run online communities as the level of work involved can be very time consuming. Running a community can also raise complicated questions of research ethics depending on how the community is used and managed. Academics may, however, engage in these additional activities outside their academic role and while in the role of a different type of actor.

From Sources and Amplifiers to Working SMARTER Together

Past work introduced actors having a supporting role in another actor’s community by serving either as a source or an amplifier (Jakubowicz et. al 2017). We now further introduce these concepts, then extend upon them to create the SMARTER system which brings all of the actors together.

Actors are a source when they provide content that helps to keep an online community engaged. Affiliated Civil Society Organisations can provide details of their experiences and those of their community members. Government Agencies can provide information and policy statements. Academics and researchers in civil society organisations can be a source of facts and expert opinions.

Actors serve as amplifiers when they expand the breadth of the engaged online community and help its message reach new audiences. One way this can occur is through the cross-posting of campaigns, that is, when one online community shares the campaigns of another. In this situation the organisation receiving the content and sharing it will be an amplifier while the organisation giving the information will be a source. Done correctly, both organisations benefit.

Civil Society Organisations (both Affiliated and General) and Government Agencies can use their online communities to amplify the impact of narratives that come from target groups or findings that emerge from research. While the simplest approach is to share a link, it can be more effective if the narrative or key research findings are repackaged to suit the amplifier’s audience and increase their engagement. Amplifiers can take messages outside the echo chamber which can exist around a targeted community or the echo chamber of the ivory towers of academia. They can help the message reach the wider community or different segments of the community.

Affiliated Civil Society Organisations may be called upon to be amplifiers by other communities, for example, in response to calls to action made by General Civil Society Organisations or Government Agencies. When a particular community comes under attack, Affiliated Civil Society Organisations from other communities can become amplifiers helping to raise awareness. General Civil Society Organisations, particularly peak bodies, can be effective catalysts for such amplification helping to create a broad network of support, empathy and cooperation.

Bringing together the idea of sources and amplifiers and the strengths and weaknesses of different types of actors we can produce a model of a system for improved cooperation that better facilitates effective communities of resilience and solidarity against cyber-racism. This model is based on the idea of acting in a SMARTER way, that is, through Solidarity in Moving Against Racism Together while Enabling Resilience. This approach builds on the strengths of individuals actors, while using cooperation to turn individual actor’s points of weakness into opportunities for cooperation that strengthen the system as a whole. It builds on the idea, previously demonstrated in the academic research context, that actors are most likely to engage in new processes and use new tools where they see a clear and relatively immediate benefit for themselves and on the idea that models enabling systematic reflection can facilitate this (Oboler et al. 2006).

The elements of the SMARTER approach are now introduced, followed by a reflection on the model as a whole.


There is a temptation for racism and other forms of hate to be seen only as a problem for the impacted community, but the message of anti-racism is one belonging to society as a whole. Nilde Jotti, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, for example, said in 1990 that ‘anti-Semitism is not a problem of the Jews but a problem of all our citizens, of all their political representatives and institutions’ (Gruber 1990). Victorian anti-racism law also reflects this:

Vilifying conduct is contrary to democratic values because of its effect on people of diverse ethnic, Indigenous and religious backgrounds. It diminishes their dignity, sense of self-worth and belonging to the community. It also reduces their ability to contribute to, or fully participate in, all social, political, economic and cultural aspects of society as equals, thus reducing the benefit that diversity brings to the community. (Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001)

The various manifestations of racism against different groups are not isolated, but rather different reflections of a general problem impacting on the ‘public good of an inclusive society’, which makes it a social problem for society as a whole (Oboler 2014).

Support for communities being targeted by online hate begins with other stakeholders recognising the manifestations of this hate. Support can be broadened by highlighting why particular messages are racist and helping others to consider their impact. When describing the experience and impact of racism on the targeted group, the voice of the targeted group is needed to provide authenticity.

The lack of understanding about racism targeting Indigenous Australians was demonstrated in the 2017 MangoGate affair which occurred after the 2017 New South Wales Higher School Certificate English examination. Frustrated with their exam, and in particular with a question asking them to interpret a poem called ‘Mango’ by Indigenous poet Ellen van Neerven, final year high school students used a Facebook group with around 70,000 members to post comments and memes which quickly became both racist and abusive (Faruqi 2017). Similar messages were then sent to the author. Those who spoke against the abuse quickly became victims themselves (Cockburn 2017). Some students excused the actions of their peers by blaming the media for accessing the public Facebook group they treated as a private space (Faruqi 2017). Others claimed abusing people for the ‘lulz’, a concept originally coming from 4Chan over a decade earlier when it was used to drive people to suicide (Brown 2016), was something unique to their generation and was simply being misunderstood (Faruqi 2017). While the more serious cases of abuse came from a small number of students, the culture was described by some students as toxic (Faruqi 2017). The normalisation of abuse, such as when over 300 students liked a single post targeting van Neerven (Faruqi 2017), encouraged further abuse.

The simplest way to lend support, available to all stakeholder types, is to support existing campaigns run by the affected community, for example, campaigns run by affiliated civil society group linked to the impacted community. This support could take the form of formally signing on as a campaign partner, sharing a campaign on social media without formally partnering, or issuing statements or press releases drawing attention to a campaign and encouraging others, including one’s own supporters, to support it. In the case of MangoGate, the First Nations Australia Writers Network (FNAWN), a peak body of Indigenous Australian writers of which Ellen van Neerven was a member, found itself acting as the Affiliated Civil Society Organisation tackling this issue of online racism, but largely without external support. The issue was instead largely addressed through educational authorities and the media.

Campaigns can also be initiated by General Civil Society Organisations. These organisations may have staff or volunteers from the impacted community supporting the work, or they may receive the support of relevant Affiliated Civil Society Organisation. When the lead is taken by a General Civil Society Organisation, the relationships described above are reversed; the impact of online hate on the targeted community may come not from the organisers of the campaign, but from individuals or organisations connected to the targeted community who find the campaign and choose to engage with in. To protect authenticity, the General Civil Society Organisation should give these people or groups a voice, particularly when they are describing the racism’s impact.

Stakeholders such as Government Agencies, Academics and Grassroots Groups can act in solidarity, supporting General Civil Society Organisation’s campaigns as they would with a campaign run by an Affiliated Civil Society Organisations. An example of this is the Online Hate Prevention Institutes’ 2013 report ‘Islamophobia on the Internet: The growth of online hate targeting Muslims’ which was produced in consultation with the Islamic Council of Victoria. While the work is that of the Online Hate Prevention Institute, the methodology, examples of raw data and early drafts of the report were discussed with the Affiliated Civil Society Organisation as the work progressed. The final report carried a foreword from the Affiliated Civil Society Organisation’s secretary describing the impact of the hate on their community (Oboler 2013). This enables solidarity in a form that empowers and supports the affected community rather than disempowering them.

In the case of a General Civil Society Organisations, building solidarity also means working with groups impacted by one type of online hate on campaigns related to other types of online hate where they are not the specific target. This can include general campaigns against online racism. The invitation to be part of the wider community’s general efforts against online hate, or the wider community’s support of another community, reaffirms the acceptance of that community as valued part of the general community and not just a victim group.

Government Agencies and Academics should similarly include groups who are targeted by cyber-racism in consultations and campaigns where they are not in the role of victims, but rather as members of the broader community opposing racism. Affiliated Civil Society Organisations should take advantage of such opportunities.

Moving Against Racism Together

A better understanding of the ways the actors can reinforce each other and empower individuals can make it easier to work together more effectively. Moving against racism together, however, take this further by building an integrated approach where each type of actor can play to its strengths as part of a coherent strategy to tackle racism and build resilience across society. As with the individual organisational approaches, the integrated approaches can also be divided into pro-active and reactive approaches.

To move beyond solidarity and into an integrated approach to proactive engagement means moving from supporting others to working with them on multifaceted joint campaigns. Such campaigns might include: (1) experiences presented by Affiliated Civil Society Organisations, (2) research into the impact of the particular cyber-racism provided by academics, (3) online engagement by the broader community through campaigns run by General Civil Society Organisation, (4) awareness raising and empathy created through campaigns by Affiliated Civil Society Organisations from the targeted community, (5) ‘sponsorship’ by Government Agencies including funding, letters of support and promotion through the agencies’ social media channels. To ensure equity, support should be given to both Affiliated and General Civil Society Organisations to support their efforts tackling cyber-racism.

Moving forward together in this way means bringing the different actors together, knowing what each can contribute and what hurdles need to be addressed to facilitate this. It also means planning how the different activities will connect and agreeing a timetable for action to enable integration. An integrated campaign is more than the sum of its parts, the different elements can draw in a larger and broader audience, as well as creating a deeper level of engagement.

Reactively, the response begins when an individual sees a manifestation of online racism. The individual will often look to Affiliated Civil Society Organisations dedicated to anti-racism work as well as peak-bodies, reporting the content to them and expecting them to respond to it. The organisations, while close to those who experience the racism, often lack expertise in combating cyber-racism. In an integrated system, the Affiliated Civil Society Organisation can call upon the expertise of other actors with specific expertise in this area, for example, by passing the information on to them while remaining the communication point with the concerned members of their own community. There are different types of actors the content could be passed to including General Civil Society Organisations, Government Agencies, Academic Researchers, higher level peak community bodies (whether Affiliated Civil Society Organisations or General Civil Society Organisations) or more specialised Affiliated Civil Society Organisations.

The key factor is that the organisation receiving the information has the skills and expertise to do something positive with the information. The information may in fact be passed to multiple different actors, each of whom can use it in different ways. When the channels for handling and sharing such information is used routinely, and responses from the different actors are coordinated, the reactive approach becomes an integrated system for moving against racism together.

It is the collaboration between organisations with a connection to the impacted community (with the data) and those with expertise in responding to cyber-racism (who need the data) which makes moving against racism together more powerful than solidarity alone.

Enabling Community Resilience

In the context of cyber racism, community resilience refers to the way communities positively adapt to the negative impacts of cyber racism (Jakubowicz et al. 2017). Some strategies that have been used by communities targeted by racism include acknowledging and challenging racism, seeking support and strengthening community identity (Bodkin-Andrews 2013, Scobie & Rodgers 2015). Jakubowicz (2015) also emphasises the importance of communication between community members in order to facilitate community resilience strategies.

Support from the wider society enhances the community resilience of targeted communities. The CRaCR project’s ‘Plan for Resilience’ sets out nine elements that could be activated to ‘move towards a non-racist civility’ in Australia (Jakubowicz et al. 2017). These elements relate to the cyber racism attitudes and experiences of targets, bystanders or perpetrators. Each element proposes strategies that could be used to counter cyber racism. It links individual, group, community and society based strategies.

Communities impacted by racism should also be included as equal partners in both the general struggle against racism, and part of the broader community when supporting other targets of racism. This sends both the impacted community and the wider society a message that this community, and the people within it, are not just victims but equal and civically active members of society. This message of acceptance and inclusion in the wider struggle, not just the community’s own struggle, builds resilience by practically demonstrating a rejection of the core message of hate which Waldon (2012) describes as saying people in the targeted community are not welcome and do not belong. Instead, anti-racism is affirmed as a value of the wider society and the targeted community and its members are affirmed as sharing this value.

When an individual is impacted by cyber-racism, referring the incident on to an Affiliated Civil Society Organisation they trust gives the impacted individual a sense of empowerment which increases their resilience. Unfortunately, when not equipped to respond to such content, the pressure this creates on the receiving organisation can lower the resilience of the organisation and its staff. In an integrated system, the information can be passed on to a range of actors who may be able to use it in positive ways. A General Civil Society Organisation dedicated to combating online hate may for example use it to engage in advocacy, research or public education. A higher level peak community body may use the information in reports that form part of their advocacy. Academics may use the information for research. Government Agencies may use the information in formulating policy or directing resources. By passing the information on so that some positive use is made of it, the Affiliated Civil Society Organisation that received the information is empowered and becomes more resilient. By reporting back to the impacted individual, that individual is empowered and gains increased resilience while decreasing the harm of further encounters with cyber-racism.

The Integrated System

In the integrated system, an individual’s reports of cyber-racism can be shared with a trusted Grassroots Group who may then pass it on to an Affiliated Civil Society Organisation, or alternatively the individual may share it directly with an Affiliated Civil Society Organisation themselves. Resilience at the personal level is enhanced when the individual has others they can trust and a support system so they can avoid dealing with an incident alone (Hunter and Chandler 1999). The sharing of an incident with a trusted group, whether a Grassroots Group or an Affiliated Civil Society Organisation, provides the network of trust and a support system that can help the individual increase their resilience. When Grassroots Groups approach an Affiliated Civil Society Organisation, it demonstrates broader interest and becomes a collective call for action. By acknowledging the concern and engaging, the Affiliated Civil Society Organisation becomes part of the support system for the individual and the Grassroots Group as they take the matter forward. In the alternative path where a victim themselves approaches an Affiliated Civil Society Organisation, there is an alternative response where the organisation provides acknowledgement, but also trust and support directly to the individual.


Figure 1 The Individual in the SMARTER Approach

To fulfil their part, Affiliated Civil Society Organisations can either use the information received themselves, or they can pass it on to others who are able to make use of it. These others might be other Affiliated Civil Society Organisations, General Civil Society Organisations, Government Agencies or Academic Researchers.

When other actors accept the information, there is an expectation that it will be used to tackle cyber-racism in some way, even if the response does not affect this specific incident. This creates a flow of support back to the Affiliated Civil Society Organisation which strengthens that organisation’s resilience by shifting them from a victim to an empowered enabler of positive action. That positive action may include research by others, based on the data they provided, and the results of that research may flow back to the Affiliated Civil Society Organisation to help them further strengthen the resilience of their community by guiding them to new policies, projects or campaigns.


Figure 2 Actors and Interactions in the SMARTER Approach

One problem with this integrated system is that the volume of cyber-racism data is large and neither Affiliated Civil Society Organisations nor the other actors have the capacity to process a constant flow of individual reports. This problem, however, can be solved with custom technology that maintains the relationships in the system, but automates the collection of data using crowd sourcing and the sharing of data among stakeholders.

Technology to Support a SMARTER Response

To overcome the vast amount of work involved in crowd sourcing reports of online hate from the public, a reporting system known as Fight Against Hate was developed by the Online Hate Prevention Institute (Oboler and Connelly 2014). This software was described in two UNESCO reports as one of the new innovative ways to tackle cyber-racism (Gargliardone et al. 2015; Bar et al. 2015). The software has since been adapted to support the SMARTER approach. The new software, Fight Against Hate Version 2, still allows the public to report cyber-racist content found on social media platforms and to categorise what they report based on what kind of hate it is. Users can still see the history of their reports. The new version, however, differs in three significant ways. The changes support the SMARTER approach through the development of the new concept of a reporting gateway.

Participating organisations can now embed a reporting gateway, which is a simplified version of the Fight Against Hate reporting tool, directly within their own website. This works in a similar way to the embedding of a YouTube video on their site. The software and data still live on the Online Hate Prevention Institute’s servers, but community members can report to it directly from the Affiliated Civil Society Organisation’s website. The organisation can also see all the content reported via their site, along with the total number of items reported via their site and a graphical breakdown of the types of hate reported. This empowers the Affiliated Civil Society Organisation giving them access to see what has been reported without the need to individually handle each report.

Each gateway is unique. It knows which organisation it belongs to and can be configured according to their needs. This allows the organisation to select the types of hate their community members may wish to report. It also allows different gateways to be configured to appear in different languages. Some organisation may wish to have multiple gateways configured for different types of hate or to enable reporting in different languages.

Fight Against Hate Version 2 also integrates with the CSI-CHAT (Crowd Sourced Intelligence - Cyber Hate and Threats) analysis tool. Organisations with access to the tool can now see either any item reported into a public pool of content via any gateway, or their view may be restricted to data from certain gateways they have been granted access to. Affiliated Civil Society Organisations can choose for all their reports to enter the public pool of data, or they can choose to keep the data to themselves and only grant access by arrangement. This allows a peak community body, for example, to have access to the reported items of all of their affiliates even if the data is not part of the public pool. Where the data is public, organisations using CSI-CHAT can still filter the data to only show a subset based on gateways they are associated with.

CSI-CHAT can provide not only Affiliated Civil Society Organisations but also Government Agencies, Academics and General Civil Society Organisations access to the data on reported content. By automating the process, an individual’s report, made to an Affiliated Civil Society Organisation, can immediately be available to a range of stakeholders who can make use of it. The Affiliated Civil Society Organisation continues to play a vital role, but the collaboration is setup in advance, mediated through the software and does not require action each time an incident occurs. The automated collaboration can provide a basis for further work, based on analysis of the reported data, in which different actors can move against racism together.

The more effectively reports from the public are handled, and the more impact reporting is seen to have, the greater the boost to resilience across society as a whole. Being empowered and part of an impactful response can turn the experience of encountering racism from a blow to resilience into a boot to resilience. The new Fight Against Hate Version 2 software facilitates real time access to data by a range of stakeholders and empowers Affiliated Civil Society Organisations by giving them a new capability for their community which require minimal setup and no significant ongoing work by staff, though reviewing and being aware of what has been reported is certainly recommended.


Figure 3 Technology’s Role in the SMARTER Approach

Not shown in Figure 3 is a secondary connection in which individuals who experiences online hate may contact an Affiliated Civil Society Organisation directly and receive counselling or other support. In some cases a victim may share content directly with the Affiliated Civil Society Organisation outside the system, for example over e-mail. The Affiliated Civil Society Organisation may report this content to the system on a person’s behalf, or may assist the person by walking them through the process. As a user reports multiple incidents, the function of reporting, which is focused on gathering data, can be separated from the function of supporting the individual. This allows the provided support to be driven by the individual’s needs, rather than by the occurrence of incidents which may at times seem like an unending barrage of abuse. As the Fight Against Hate Version 2 reporting tool allows the individual to view a record of what they have previously reported, including screen captures and comments they may have added, the need to immediately see someone and discuss the incident while the content remains online is removed. This reduces the sense of crisis, enhancing the individual’s resilience. It can also reduce the demand for urgent attention from Affiliated Civil Society Organisations on each additional incident, relieving pressure on their staff and increasing the organisations resilience.


The growing significance of the online world in everyday life has significantly impacted on societal norms including expectations of civility. Promoters of hate propaganda have been emboldened, bystanders have been hardened reducing their willingness to intervene, target groups have been fragmented and many key stakeholders have been disempowered as technology creates a barrier to their engagement (Jakubowicz et al. 2017). In the online world racism has become normalised. While a third of online users encounter it, only a small minority of people report it and their efforts are often met with indifference (Jakubowicz et al. 2017). The embedding of hate into the fabric of the online environment creates a background noise of hate (Oboler 2014). This background noise has ‘a debilitating effect on civility, empathy and social cohesion’ (Jakubowicz et al. 2017). To build online communities of resistance to racism and solidarity with those who are targeted, we need new approaches.

An integrated multi-stakeholder approach to tackle cyber-racism can re-empower key stakeholders while supporting collaboration and fostering cooperation. Strengthening communities in the spaces where they are attacked, that is in the online world, and addressing the background noise of racism that creates that environment is essential to enabling targeted communities to reclaim these spaces and be a full part of today’s technologically empowered society. We need resilient online communities able to operate in this often hostile environment so they can work towards change and a more civil online world.

The SMARTER approach, built around the idea of Solidarity in Moving Against Racism Together while Enabling Resilience, sees five different types of actors working together: Affiliated Civil Society Organisations, General Civil Society Organisations, Government Agencies, Academics, and Grassroots Groups. Under this approach each type of actor uses their strengths to tackle cyber-racism while turning weakness into opportunities for cooperation which strengthen the integrated system as a whole. The resilience of individuals and online communities is increased when trusted Affiliated Civil Society Organisations are able to take their reports of cyber-racism incidents and commit to positive use being made of the information. The resilience of the Affiliated Civil Society Organisations themselves is increased when they can share these reports of cyber-racism with other actors who are able to make positive use of the information to tackle the problem of cyber-racism. A shared pool of data helps not only collaboration between organisations but also planning for integrated shared campaigns.

To overcome the barriers created when racism moves online, new technology is needed. Without new tools, the alternative of experts manually compiling information is too time intensive and the volume of cyber-racism makes the task impractical. Version 2 of the Fight Against Hate reporting tool maintains the relationships and roles of the different stakeholders while greatly simplifying the processes and reducing the overheads involved in capturing and sharing cyber-racism information. The system allows the collection of incident reports from the public through both Affiliated Civil Society Organisations and General Civil Society Organisations. It allows incoming data to be seen by the collecting organisation, but also allows access to see this information to be shared with other stakeholders. The CSI CHAT system provides a suite of capabilities to work with the data from multiple sources and analyse it. This facilitates research making it easier for the data to be used in work that counters cyber-racism. With shared tools and an ability to share data, different actors can more easily come together to plan shared and integrated campaigns.

The SMARTER approach, supported by new technology, can empower a range of actors of different types, who together are key stakeholders able to tackle the problem of racism and cyber-racism in society. In doing so in a manner that engages and supports the community, these actors can create and support stronger and more effective communities of resilience that are able to work together to create a safer and more civil society.


The authors would like to acknowledge the support and assistance of Emeritus Professor Andrew Jakubowicz. Professor Jakubowicz has been an exceptional leader on the CRaCR project, guiding its development and research and encouraging engagement with community organisations. This engagement has resulted in collaborative partnerships such as the one with OHPI, which has contributed to the development of the SMARTER approach. In particular Professor Jakubowicz’s extensive knowledge and feedback has been invaluable to the production of this article. We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments which have enhanced the contents of this article.


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