The Australian Muslim Advocacy Network is urging the federal government to follow international allies in banning extremist far-right groups.
The group says the ban will combat the spread of extremist material on social media, which is increasingly being imported from Britain, the US, and Europe.
A lack of official terrorist listings imposed on far-right organisations is limiting the capacity of social media companies to respond to the threat, the group has warned.
AMAN spokesperson Rita Jabri-Markwell told SBS News banning far-right groups would send a strong signal that extremism isn’t tolerated in Australia.
“We can’t ignore the reality of the internet … they are operating through Australian channels now to convince Australians that some minorities are this frightening and horrific threat,” she said.
“It’s extremely damaging to democracy but also to national security because this is the trajectory towards radicalisation.”
Australia’s international allies the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada have all moved to ban examples of extremist right-wing groups in their jurisdictions.
Germany recently banned the Northern Eagle organisation and has been cracking down on neo-Nazi organisations that have been using social media to recruit new members and support far-right violence.
There are no similar groups on Australia’s banned terrorist organisation list, despite intelligence agencies repeatedly drawing attention to the escalating threat.
AMAN issued its warning about right-wing extremists in a submission to the Senate inquiry into foreign interference through social media.
The group’s research has identified what it describes as “inauthentic behaviour” between a network of groups in Australia linked to right wing and white supremacist content overseas.
“We remain very concerned about the exportation of right wing extremist rhetoric from the UK, Europe and USA to Australia through coordinated exercises on social media platforms like Facebook, and its potentially devastating impacts for Australia’s democracy, social cohesion and national security,” it said in the submission.
International UN-backed group Tech Against Terrorism has warned that a lack of clarity around the status of far-right and other violent extremist groups can make it difficult for companies to make moderation decisions.
This is because many tech companies refer to existing designation lists as a standard against which to moderate terrorist content on their platforms.
Ms Jabri-Markwell said the proliferation of extremist material was a “ticking time bomb” that required a more concerted national response in Australia.
“Listing would send a strong signal that would help companies and government agencies to direct more resources to combating this form of terrorism and extremism,” she said.
Facebook has taken steps to remove and ban pages of right-wing groups in the United Kingdom, the US and Canada.
Twitter also says it monitors and removes posts from sources that fall under “national and international terrorism designations” and “violent extremist groups”.
Dr Jake Wallis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said platforms are increasingly looking for government direction in response to the extremism.
“The listing of groups would be a statement from the government on the significant threat that is emerging from right-wing extremism,” he told SBS News.
Dr Wallis said social media companies review content moderation with a universal view, rather than specific to the restrictions of geographic regions.
But he said Australia taking a stance on this issue would give it more ability to influence the positions of social media companies.
“Otherwise we are simply reacting to what happens elsewhere in the world … or perhaps more importantly the positions the platforms themselves take,” he said.
The United Kingdom has formally banned extremist right group the Sonnenkrieg Division and neo-Nazi group National Action.
The United States has designated the Russian Imperial Movement, a white supremacist group, as global terrorists.
Canada has listed right wing extremist groups such as Blood and Honour and Combat 18.
ASIO has warned that right-wing extremism poses an increasing threat in Australia as groups become more organised.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison supported a global crackdown on social media companies combating violent extremist material after the Christchurch attack was livestreamed on Facebook last year.
In its submission, AMAN said research has also shown radicalising material is being circulated through malicious “news” platforms to circumvent criminal sanction and often “falls short of actually inciting violence which poses a real difficulty in terms the application of criminal law”.
AMAN said the government might consider strengthening the existing criminal laws used for harmful online conduct to allow extremist behaviour – rather than only groups – to be targeted.
The Senate inquiry was established last year to investigate the risks posed to Australia’s democracy by foreign interference through social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and WeChat.