Association of Police and Crime Commissioners
Together for a better Internet
Safer Internet Day, organised by the UK Safer Internet Centre, is marked globally in February each year to inspire a national conversation on how we can promote the safe and positive use of digital technology for children and young people.
This year the theme is “Together for a Better Internet”, and as the APCC Lead on Hate Crime, I would like to discuss the steps we can all take to embody the spirit of these words with regard to standing against online hate.
In October 2018, for the first time the Home Office published experimental data on online hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales in 2017/18. The data revealed the majority of online hate crimes were recorded as Violence Against the Person (VATP) offences, and that the vast majority of these involved the sending of malicious communications.
Hateful words online can have devastating consequences IRL (in real life): the Sussex Hate Crime Project has explored how viewing hateful content online generates “feelings of anger anxiety”, particularly when individuals view material targeting their own communities. Additionally, Tell MAMA, a non-government organisation which works on tackling anti-Muslim hatred, have observed how extreme online hateful content can inspire and abet hate crimes being committed offline also.
There is an urgent need for social media companies to really meet their responsibilities to keep us all safe: as recent news stories show, when harmful content is not removed it can have devastating consequences. Conversations are on-going at a national level looking at measures that can be introduced to keep social media users safe, e.g. safeguarding boards for the internet.
However, it’s important that we also think about what we can do as individual users to stand together against hate, for a better internet. The fight should not be left to be fought by victims and affected communities alone: where possible, all of us should challenge and report hateful content online when we encounter it.
In the offline space, research into the Somali community’s experience of hate crime has indicated that whilst the incidents themselves are unpleasant and hurtful, what victims find most distressing is when bystanders to the incident take no action. To tackle this, the social enterprise Communities Inc last year launched the Stand By Me initiative, which talked about the safe and effective steps that people may wish to consider taking, to intervene in hate crimes and incidents if they encounter them in a public place. According to Communities Inc, interventions from bystanders have proved to be effective in de-escalating situations and increasing reporting.
I believe that we should apply this thinking to the internet: we should act to report hateful content online when we see it, even when it does not affect us directly.
All major social media platforms have reporting mechanisms in place and will act to remove content if it contravenes their codes of conduct. Meanwhile, online content is illegal if it includes words, picture videos or event music, glorifying violence against anyone due to their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or because they are transgender. This can be reported directly to the police on 101, at your local police station, via the True Vision website, or another third-party reporting centre.
Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the Internet, has called for people around the world to build communities online that respect human dignity. This Safer Internet Day, let’s make this aspiration a reality, stand up for one another, against hate, and for a better internet.
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