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AFL Draft 2022: Young draft hopeful subjected to anti-Semitic online abuse

AFL Draft 2022 Young draft hopeful subjected to antiSemitic online abuse
Sheezel showed maturity beyond his 18 years when he became, simply because of the attention he generated through being the first Jewish player drafted since 1999, the target of online antisemitic abuse that will be investigated by the AFL. 

“Harry has been a Scopus student throughout his school career, and at every stage of his journey to the AFL has shown that he is a proud member of the school community and of the wider Jewish community,” said Rabbi James Kennard, the school’s principal.

“Through his own effort, he has combined his training with his school studies. This tremendous achievement is a true testament to his dedication. We wish Harry every success for the future. Go Roos!”

The top 13 in the 2022 draft.

The top 13 in the 2022 draft.Credit:Justin McManus

Facebook users over the weekend celebrated the 18-year-old’s achievements, but a handful of commenters on the post subjected Sheezel to antisemitic abuse, some of which made reference to the Holocaust.

A spokesperson from the AFL said they were aware of the discriminatory comments, and have contacted the player’s management, as well as the league’s integrity department to investigate whether the commentary came from genuine social media accounts, and club members.

“To denounce a young man on the eve of realising his dream of being drafted to the AFL is deplorable and unacceptable, and there is no place for this type of behaviour anywhere in our community,” the spokesperson said.

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The Age removed the post from Facebook the following day once its social media team was made aware of the hateful comments. All other posts linking to the article on social media were restricted to prevent further comments.

Acting Age editor Michael Bachelard said the published article was a lovely, positive story about a young man facing a big day – his drafting to the AFL.

“It’s disgraceful and disappointing that sewer-dwellers on social media took such a story and turned it into an excuse for vile anti-Semitic abuse,” he said.

“As this is, unfortunately, growing more common, we normally use our discretion to block comments on stories that even mention the religion or race of a person. (The social media companies do not allow us to pre-moderate comments.) On this occasion, unfortunately, the story was posted at a busy time – the evening of the state election – and the usual, cautious practice was overlooked.

“Comments were not blocked or adequately moderated until the issue was drawn to our attention, when the situation was rectified. For this, we apologise to Harry Sheezel and the broader Jewish community.”

Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich said Australians must accept that “the genie of antisemitism is out of the bottle”.

“The number of revolting posts that have targeted Harry Sheezel on Facebook is alarming, and points to a large-scale normalisation and acceptance of bigoted, hateful speech that is a hallmark of social media today,” Abramovich said.

The abusive comments come amid concerns about the loosening of content moderation on social media. Following Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, racist, antisemitic and other forms of hate speech have risen, according to groups that monitor the platform.

“At a time of unprecedented levels of antisemitism in our nation, it is vital that tech companies like Meta and others enforce their own community guidelines and ban these agents of prejudice,” Abramovich said.

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A spokesperson from Meta, the parent company of Facebook, said the company had invested in AI technologies to take down hate speech. The company would not say, however, why these particular comments were not removed after other users reported the abuse as hate speech.

“There is no place for antisemitism or any other form of hate speech on Facebook and Instagram, and our hate speech policies prohibit direct attacks on Jewish people,” the spokesperson said.

In the NBA, Brooklyn Nets player Kyrie Irving was suspended for five games after he posted a link to antisemitic work on his Twitter feed, which he refused to apologise for. Among the fallout, the team’s coach Steve Nash was fired.

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