Clare O’Neil blames social media ‘echo chambers’ for fracturing social cohesion amid Gaza conflict

Dan Jervis-Bardy
The Nightly
Australian Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil reacts during House of Representatives Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra.
Australian Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil reacts during House of Representatives Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra. Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

The “echo chambers” of social media are fuelling a rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia that is tearing at the social fabric of the country, according to Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil.

In a speech to be delivered on Tuesday, Ms O’Neil will declare discrimination has become a “pervasive life experience” for Jewish and Muslim communities since Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel ignited the conflict in Gaza.

“Antisemitism and Islamophobia are far bigger problems than I think most people realise,” Ms O’Neil is expected to tell the ANU’s future of elections event, according to a draft speech supplied to The West Australian.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

Ms O’Neil will pin some of the blame on social media, arguing the “filters, bubbles and echo chambers” of the platforms are serving to “germinate and grow this bigotry”.

“They are not just straining the social fabric of our country. They are ripping at it, continuously, aggressively,” she will say.

Ms O’Neil confirmed Communications Minister Michelle Rowland would soon introduce laws to combat misinformation and disinformation online as part of a wider Federal Government crackdown on social media platforms like Meta and X, formerly Twitter.

The Government is desperate to rein in the tech giants after a series of public spats, including X owner Elon Musk’s stoush with the eSafety Commissioner over the right to publish videos of the stabbing of a Sydney church bishop.

Ms O’Neil will make the case for stronger regulation, warning “democracy is too precious, and important” to let companies “dictate terms to Government, or to our citizens”.

“The scale and pace of the challenges to our democracy which are being driven by social media are unprecedented in our history, and we can’t afford to spend another decade kicking the can down the road, deciding that putting rules in place is too hard,” she will say.

Ms O’Neil will also use the speech to condemn the spate of protests and attacks by pro-Palestine supporters on the offices of Labor MPs.

Labor MP Josh Burns who is Jewish — was the latest victim after vandals last week smashed windows and set fire to his Melbourne electorate office.

Protesters have also been accused of blockading MPs offices, preventing constituents from accessing help.

“Our social cohesion is our most valuable national asset, and we cannot allow conflicts on the other side of the world to undermine or erode it,” Ms O’Neil will say. “People will disagree. That is part of being in a democracy. And we have the right to express our views in protest.

“But preventing vulnerable people from accessing government services is not respectful of our fellow citizens. Jamming open the door of the offices of politicians and screaming until the staff have to leave, shaking, is not peaceful protest.

“Painting blood red symbols of terrorism, or leaving child-like fake bodies outside offices, is not properly peaceful protest.

“It is menacing, it is violent, and it is unacceptable.”


Latest Edition

The front page of The Nightly for 18-07-2024

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 18 July 202418 July 2024

Top Democrat leads calls for Joe Biden to step down as COVID diagnosis hits ailing campaign.