Magda Szubanski and Nyadol Nyuon have been victims of coordinated online attacks from right-wing extremists, a Senate estimates hearing has been told.
Sudanese-Australian lawyer Nyadol Nyuon has spoken about the exhausting emotional toll of being targeted online by right-wing extremists.
A Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday night was told Ms Nyuon and actress Magda Szubanski had been specifically targeted in coordinated online campaigns.
eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant said her office was seeing an increase in “volumetric online abuse” coordinated by white extremists and conspiracy theorists against certain personalities online.
“The volumetric attacks on Nyadol Nyuon ... as well as Magda Szubanski in the wake of her public service announcements around wearing COVID masks - were all coordinated right-wing extremist attacks,” she said.
Ms Nyuon regularly receives abuse online after appearing on TV shows such as the ABC’s QandA or The Drum, and from comments on her popular Twitter page, which she has now deactivated.
“Black bitch”, “Carve them!”, “Kill them all” and “Go back to the f***ing country you came from” are among the abusive comments she has been sent.
Ms Nyuon told SBS News she was seeing many women of colour now choosing to stay silent out of fear after watching her experience.
“We do end up losing women in the public space, and women of colour, because it's a toxic environment to be in,” she said.
Ms Inman Grant said the purpose of the abuse was often to marginalise specific groups or communities.
“The whole idea is to create an avalanche of hate directed towards specific targets, usually women or those with other intersectional factors,” she told the hearing on Wednesday night.
Ms Nyuon said the attacks typically started with a single comment, usually from an alt-right figure, that targeted her specifically but didn't contain any specific threats.
"Then you get like hundreds of people tracking you down and then some of them of course are abusive," she said.
"I screenshot of some of these people because I was afraid that I'm going to be walking down the street and get confronted by a random person."
Although she continues to speak out about the impacts of being ruthlessly targeted online, Ms Nyuon said the abuse took its toll.
"The trolling was so intense," she said.
"Eventually I was so exhausted."
The attacks on Ms Szubanski spiked after she featured in a Victorian government COVID-19 safety ad in character as Sharon Strzelecki from the popular comedy series Kath & Kim.
Responding to Ms Inman Grant's comments, Ms Szubanski urged the public to get behind victims of online abuse, including Ms Nyuon.
“It was all worth it to bring those nasty trolls out into the light of day," she wrote on Twitter.
"I’m lucky I have 35 years of public support. But pls-if ever u see something like this happening (no matter who) throw your Twitter arms around that person #Nyadol."
The recent run of Senate estimates hearings have shed light on the growing issue of right-wing extremism in Australia.
Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Ian McCartney spoke earlier this week about the "aggressive" radicalisation of young people online.
“We’re dealing with people who are either radicalised in the real world or radicalised online,” he said.
“We’re finding now that in terms of right-wing extremism, that the concern for us is young persons being radicalised online – very aggressively in relation to right-wing extremism."
Australia’s security agencies have for some time warned of the increasing danger posed by right-wing extremists, who are becoming more organised and active in Australia.
The domestic spy agency ASIO has reported far-right violent extremism now accounts for up to 40 per cent of its counter-terrorism workload, up from 10 to 15 per cent before 2016.
ASIO director general Mike Burgess recently told the Senate his agency has diverted additional resources towards dealing with the evolving threat, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Many of these groups and individuals have seized upon COVID-19, believing it reinforces the narrative and conspiracies at the core of the ideologies," he said.
"They see the pandemic as proof of the failure of globalisation, multiculturalism and democracy and confirmation that societal collapse and a race-war are inevitable."