Government and social media urged to do more to tackle online racism

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for ministers and online platforms to clamp down on online abuse in the wake of the race report.

Sir Keir Starmer has called on tech giants to do more to tackle online racism in response to a landmark report on race in the UK.

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities said social media “enormously amplifies racist views” and the abuse of minorities was “one of the most concerning side effects” of such technology.

In response, the Labour leader accused the Government of so far failing to act on concerns around online abuse despite worries having been raised “a decade ago”.

Sir Keir also called on social media platforms to work with the Government on enforcement around online racism.

“When I was director of public prosecutions, we were tackling this a decade ago,” he said.

“We’ve had a Conservative Government for a decade and we’re still having the same debate about what needs to happen about racism online.

“I’ll tell you what needs to happen, the Conservative Government needs to actually do something, instead of talking about it.”

“We need to understand it better, we need to have enforcement in place, we need to work with platform providers.”

Sir Keir Starmer
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer (Ian Forsyth/PA)

The Government has published proposals for an Online Safety Bill that would introduce a statutory duty of care for online platforms to adhere to and oversee by Ofcom as the new internet regulator, with large fines for those found to breach the rules.

However, that draft legislation has been delayed several times and is now expected before Parliament before the end of the year.

The commission’s report said that despite attitudes towards racism offline generally changing for the better in the past 30 years, the rise of social media had “partly undermined this apparent march of progress”.

It said the spread of mobile phone use and social media had allowed for the “proliferation of most negative messages and attitudes” and that “toxic messages” previously only spread between small numbers of people were now being amplified online.

High-profile figures, including a number of professional footballers, have highlighted racist abuse they have received online. Former Arsenal and France striker Thierry Henry recently announced he was quitting social media over abuse, saying it is not a “safe place”.

Some social media giants have remained silent in the wake of the report, however; Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, said it would not be commenting on the review, while Google-owned YouTube did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, Twitter said: “Racist behaviour has no place on our service.

“We have a series of robust policies in place that address abuse and harassment, violent threats, and hateful conduct, and have tightened up our enforcement in line with our commitment to protect the health of the public conversation.

“If we identify accounts that violate any of these rules, we take strong enforcement action. We continue to collaborate with the Government, civic society and industry to build on the work we’ve already undertaken to make the Internet a safe environment for all.”

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