Magda Szubanski targeted by coordinated 'avalanche of hate' from rightwing extremists over Covid mask ad

Josh Taylor
·3-min read

Magda Szubanski was targeted by a coordinated “avalanche of hate” from rightwing extremists online after appearing in a Victorian government ad encouraging mask use, Australia’s e-safety commissioner, Julie Inman-Grant, has said.

In late August, when Victoria was reporting Covid-19 cases of close to 200 a day, Szubanski was one of several celebrities to appear in ads encouraging social distancing and compliance with mask rules.

Szubanski brought back her Kath & Kim character Sharon Strzelecki for the promotion, and quickly found herself on the receiving end of an online trolling campaign.

At the time, Szubanski said the abuse came from Covid-19 deniers.

“They don’t believe Covid-19 is real,” she tweeted. “That poses a far greater risk to other people’s health than me being fat. Fat ain’t contagious.”

Inman-Grant told a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday night that the abuse Szubanski received after the ads aired, was “volumetric cross-platform online abuse, which is coordinated by ostensibly white extremists [and] conspiracy theorists”.

“The whole idea is to create an avalanche of hate, directed towards specific targets, usually women or those with other intersectional factors,” she said.

Inman-Grant said her office had been tracking the QAnon conspiracy theory movement as well as the Boogaloo far-right movement.

Inman-Grant said attacks on Szubanski and the Australian human rights activist lawyer Nyadol Nyuon were all “coordinated rightwing extremist attacks”.

“We’re aware of it, we’re watching it, but we also have education programs to try and address [it].”

South Australia police apologised to Nyuon in June after an officer sent her an abusive message on Facebook after an appearance on the ABC’s Q&A program. Nyuon has said she frequently receives racist abuse online after appearing on TV.

“Volumetric attacks” are commonly organised in closed groups on Facebook or other platforms. Guardian Australia has previously reported politicians were targeted by one such group earlier this year as disinformation spread online about the Victorian lockdown being imposed for another year.

Related: Questioning Daniel Andrews: how reporters came under attack in Victoria

Facebook has recently imposed bans on accounts and groups devoted to promoting QAnon and the Boogaloo movement, but critics have said the tech giant has often acted too slowly in these cases, with some groups not being removed until after an act of violence had been committed by someone associated with the group.

Last month, Asio reported 40% of its counterterrorism caseload involved far-right violent extremism, up from 10% to 15% in 2016.