A Facebook account using the name and image of Calum Thwaites, the student at the centre of a national racial discrimination controversy, has been used to post a comment in a secret anti-Aboriginal Facebook group suggesting someone use the word “niggers”.
Last week Labor MP Terri Butler read out messages from Facebook group Brockspace to the federal chamber, exercising parliamentary privilege.
The messages included a comment posted from an account in the name "Calum Thwaites", which is the same name as the 24-year-old student from Queensland University of Technology who has filed a defamation suit against Butler for comments she made on the ABC's Q&A last month.
“This is a coarsening of public debate and we should be very, very worried about it,” Butler said.
BuzzFeed News has now obtained screenshots of the post.
Calum Thwaites gained national attention in 2013 when Aboriginal computer lab assistant Cindy Prior accused him and other students of discriminating against her on a “QUT Stalkerspace” Facebook group. Proceedings were brought against them.
Thwaites was accused of writing the words “ITT niggers” on Facebook after he and other students were questioned by Prior for being in an Indigenous computer lab.
He has repeatedly denied the accusations and said the Facebook account that made the comment was fake and run by someone else. In a signed affidavit to the court, Thwaites said he did not and could not have posted the message.
The sworn testimony was accepted by a federal court judge when dismissing the case against him last month.
After Butler questioned whether he had actually written the Facebook post during an appearance on Q&A, Thwaites sued her for defamation claiming her statements suggested he is a liar, racist, and perjurer. He has rejected an apology from her.
Among the messages the MP read out to parliament last week from the secret Facebook group was a comment suggesting someone should use the term “niggers”, which appeared under an account using Thwaites's name and also bearing an image of him.
The Brockspace group has about 3,400 members, many of them male students from Queensland, and was set up in the wake of the original QUT Stalkerspace group being shut down because of the racial discrimination complaint.
On 4 November, one person posted a Sky News story in Brockspace about Calum Thwaites’s racial discrimination case being dismissed from court.
Another member screenshot pictures of a Facebook status purporting to be from Calum Thwaites and posted them in the comments below. The account under the name “Calum Thwaites” responded with “Hey what a cute guy”.
Four members reacted over the next few hours, with comments such as “Congrats man, was just saying the same thing to Woody. Been a fucking long haul”, “YESSSSSSSS”, and “HE’S BACK”.
Then, one person posted, “I wonder if you can say ITT niggers on ss2.0 again now?”
ss2.0 means Stalkerspace 2.0.
The “Calum Thwaites” account replied, “Give it a crack what’s the worst that can happen?”
BuzzFeed News asked one of the members of the “Brockspace” group about the thread.
The member did not reply to our message but instead posted it in the Facebook thread with the caption: “We have a leak. Some leftie buzzfeed “”””journalist”””” trying to drum up a story about the QUT racism case. Just in case he didn’t know; this is a private group that has 0 affiliation with QUT."
When BuzzFeed News asked Thwaites, via his lawyer, about who was behind the messages posted by “Calum Thwaites” on Facebook, his lawyer, Anthony Morris, said in a statement:
“As Calum has a pending action for defamation against Ms Butler, as well as a pending application with the Privileges Committee of the House of Representatives seeking redress over the abuse by Ms Butler of parliamentary privilege, I have advised Calum that it is not appropriate to engage in any public discussion of such matters, which includes answering any questions from journalists," Morris said.
“Just because Calum let the ABC off the hook – accepting that they acted in good faith – it should not be assumed that he will be quite so accommodating to any other media organ which continues to publish Ms Butler's defamatory comments, or otherwise attempts to throw mud at him."
Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Mark Di Stefano at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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