The Pauline Hanson/One Nation Supporters and Discussion Forum is a peculiar corner of the internet. It’s a melting pot of xenophobia, anti-Islamic bigotry and conspiracy theories.
There are the people saying we should burn down mosques in response to terror attacks, calls for police to be given better guns (and “let’s hope they get to use them”) and articles “proving” a link between Waleed Aly and Islamic State.
But there are also the more obscure, such as complaints palliative care staff are over-medicating patients deliberately and petitions for Whoopi Goldberg to be sacked from The View. If you want to know what Senator Pauline Hanson’s base is thinking, this is where to start.
The closed Facebook group has 50,000 members, many of whom are extremely active. During busy times of the day dozens of new comments are posted almost every minute. It’s hard to imagine any other Australian political party’s base being this consistently active and engaged online.
Moderators do a quick background check before allowing a new member to join (when I tried to enter the forum in March with my real Facebook account I was blocked). The forum is also heavily moderated and posts directly calling for the killing or attacking of Muslims are mostly quickly taken down. The pinned introduction post to the forum by an admin calls for caution from members:
“We need some form of cohesion here. Whilst not attempting to stifle any freedom of expression. We have seen just a few troubling posts and comments that could be considered detrimental to Pauline Hanson and One Nation’s cause.”
Then in all caps:
“WE NEED MEMBERS TO SUPPORT THE WORK OF THE FORUM AND NOT AGAINST IT! SWEARING ON THE FORUM. HATE PREACHING AND INCITING VIOLENCE AGAINST MUSLIMS ACHIEVES ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!”
The forum is a space for people with similar views, but for a “Pauline Hanson forum” there are surprisingly few posts about One Nation or any of its senators. Many of the posts that do directly reference One Nation are posted by a select few admins of the group, who seem keen to keep the discussion focused on Australian politics and the party.
The forum has the occasional complaints about foreign multinationals like Adani and general anti-political-elite posts, like calls for John Howard to be stripped of his parliamentary pension — but the overarching obsession of the group’s members is Islam. In the three months I kept an eye on the forum, I saw a huge surge in activity following terror attacks anywhere in the world. Constantly scrolling down, I could hardly keep up with the hundreds of new comments calling for the expulsion or internment of Muslims.
There were also some incredibly honest confessionals of people’s fears; one woman writing she had been unable to watch a movie in the cinema because there was a “middle-eastern man” sitting a few rows behind her and she couldn’t stop thinking that he was going to attack her daughter. Other commenters responded.
“I get very nervous around foreigners now and watch them like a hawk,” one person said. Another wrote that she hadn’t done her Christmas shopping last year because the mall was “prefect for an attack”.
Logging on during and directly after the Four Corners report on Hanson in April was a surprise. The Four Corners report focused on Hanson’s alleged failure to properly report a plane that had been donated to the party, among other serious allegations against the Senator and her top aide, James Ashby. Expecting to find a barrage of defenders of Hanson and posts calling the ABC “fake news”, instead there was silence. It was clear Hanson’s base weren’t interpreting things differently to those in the Twitter echo-chamber; they just weren’t watching.
The barrage of posts came the following morning came in response to the commercial TV and tabloid media’s reporting of the Four Corners investigation. Of the hundreds of posts defending her, almost none made any reference to the actual accusation against Hanson and Ashby, instead focusing on the dishonesty of the ABC and alleging a government conspiracy to remove Hanson.
Only one or two lone voices raised any concerns about the claims. The Facebook group’s creator claims “We have people connected to the offices of One Nation in this forum and receive consistent feedback.” The creator also claims to have assisted One Nation with a membership drive in the lead-up to the Western Australian election earlier this year.
The “About” section of the forum says the group has “One Nation Senators, their Aides and many candidates and person that hold key positions within One Nation as members of this forum”and encourages people to “make their voices heard”. But the actual level of that connection is unclear.
Searching the 50,000 members for the names of One Nation senators comes back with nothing. There is, however, a young Sunshine Coast man on the forum by the name of “James Ashby”. (When Crikey messaged this James Ashby to confirm if he was the “James Ashby of One Nation”, the message was “seen” but not responded to.)
Crikey sent questions to One Nation about the relationship between the group and party officials and was told “There is no relationship between the official One Nation page/party and the supporters & discussion forum”. And messages sent to the forum creator and another admin garnered no reply.