Leading UK Labour figures Sadiq Khan and Angela Rayner are pushing for action to stifle what they call “online hate.” Khan, the mayor of London, along with Raynor, the deputy Labour leader, demanded harsher measures by the British government despite laws already criminalizing “hate speech.”
At a weekend Labour Party event, Rayner declared that online companies tried to “self-regulate,” but now “it’s time for us to legislate.” She said that social media organizations need to “accept responsibility” for their space and “sort it out.”
Critics charge that the nation should focus on “real” crimes instead of speech. In 2017, British authorities arrested 3,400 individuals for “offensive” online statements, but apparently that is not enough for Labour.
Mayor Khan threw his support behind the “online harms bill” that he said is important for the UK’s future. Some expect the legislation to be redrafted under new Prime Minister Liz Truss.
Like Ranyer, Khan noted that social media platforms tried to regulate themselves, but now the government must “regulate companies like Facebook and Twitter.”
Hate speech, Khan said, “has been monetized.”
Freedom of speech is vital, but free speech does not mean a free pass for hatred.
Online hate speech fans the flames of prejudice and leads to appalling and tragic real-world violence.
Social media companies must do more, not less, to protect their communities.
— Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan (@MayorofLondon) April 26, 2022
The mayor reported that analysis showed 230,000 racist tweets about him since he took office in 2016, and he noted that very few have been removed by the platforms.
In fact, Khan said his office compiled the 100 most offensive tweets about him personally and reported them. He said that four have been taken down. He noted that many linked him, as a Muslim, to Islamic terrorism.
There are currently two major measures up for consideration for regulating internet content, the Online Safety Bill and the Digital Markets Bill. The first gives the UK government the power to jail “trolls” and those who spread “disinformation.”
It also calls for the arrest of anyone who posts information that may cause “psychological harm.”
These bills have garnered much opposition among free speech and free internet advocates. Now there is a backlash among conservative British MPs to curb the ability of the tech giants to censor British citizens for political commentary. This battle is just beginning.