4 Apr 2023

Spike in online hate toward trans community after Posie Parker visit - researchers

10:35 am on 4 April 2023
British anti-transgender activist Posie Parker, also known as Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, at a rally in Albert Park in central Auckland on 25 March 2023.

British anti-trans activist Posie Parker, also known as Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, at a rally in Albert Park, Auckland, on 25 March. Photo: RNZ / Rayssa Almeida

The recent visit by British anti-trans rights activist Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull has sparked a massive increase in the level of online hatred directed at the trans community here.

Analysts monitoring online extremism say it has hit new lows with one researcher describing it as "genocidal".

They say the content is now being widely distributed by anti-mandate and anti-government groups.

And there are fears violence could spill out into the world.

Meanwhile, the researchers say the amount of hate being directed at the Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson is now as bad as that towards former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Shaneel Lal was a central figure in the protest against the visit by Keen-Minshull, known as Posie Parker.

Late last week Shaneel Lal was named Young New Zealander of the Year for their for work for rainbow communities - including the fight to ban conversion therapy.

The spotlight has prompted a backlash. Lal has been threatened with violence and feared for their safety at the awards ceremony in Auckland last Thursday and the threats prompted extra security at the event.

"A lot of these people who are sending threats could very much act on it," they said.

"One of the threats I got says 'if I see you I'll snap your neck'."

High profile offshore backers of Posie Parker including the author JK Rowling have singled out Lal, leading to a deluge of horrific transphobic messages from within New Zealand and from overseas.

"Not only to me but also people who are showing support to me, and as a result of that a lot of people have had to make their accounts private and go into hiding. And I guess the thing with me is I haven't gone into hiding so they are just having to go to more extreme lengths with me."

Outpouring of hate spreading in anti-vaccine mandate groups

Disinformation Project researcher Dr Sanjana Hattotuwa said the outpouring of hate towards the trans community triggered by Posie Parker's visit is beyond anything he has seen.

"They are being hounded, harassed and harmed and hated upon online - to a degree we've never studied before."

Hattotuwa said a major change in the past fortnight has been the degree to which the "extraordinarily violent" content has been taken up and distributed by anti-vax and anti mandate groups.

He said the extremity of the content was more characteristic of far right and neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups, and the fact it was now being taken up by groups that flourished because of Covid measures was "really worrying".

He said the vitriol directed at the trans community could be described as "genocidal".

"Something that we've never seen before is the import of content from Australian neo-Nazi, neo-fascist, anti-Semitic networks and individuals and their personal networks, into Aotearoa New Zealand."

Hattotuwa said there was an "extremely strong correlation" between online hate and the possibility of physical violence.

Meanwhile, Green co-leader Marama Davidson, who made comments at the Posie Parker counter protest about white cis men causing violence, has since also been the object of spike in online abuse.

He said it was even worse than was directed at former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

'They just end up growing in the shadows'

Byron C Clark, who has written a book about New Zealand's extremist groups said they have seized on transphobia as a wedge issue, and as a more acceptable form of prejudice than racism and other beliefs.,

He said they were using it to try to whip up fear in the general public about an already marginalised group, and get themselves closer to the mainstream.

He said there was also increased extremist activity online before the Christchurch mosque shootings and the Parliament occupation, and it needed to be faced head on.

"When we try to not give these movements oxygen they just end up growing in the shadows and then they burst out into public."

He said the large turnout at the Posie Parker counterprotest shows there was a huge amount of support for the trans community, and the online haters were just a tiny minority.

The police said they did not record if a victim of violence was transgender.

It makes it harder to know if violence against the group was increasing.

It comes as the head of spy agency GCSB has revealed it helped prevent three recent possible domestic terror attacks - two by white supremacists

New Zealand's domestic terror threat was dropped to 'low' late last year. It had been at 'medium' since about a month after the 2019 mosque shootings.

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