Labour demands legislation to protect social media users against hate

Social media giants’ “failure” to tackle hate speech on their sites highlights why new laws are required to protect people online, the Labour Party has argued.

Jo Stevens, shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, said the UK “desperately” needed legislation forcing platforms to act because “self-regulation isn’t working”.

Labour has accused the Government of delaying the introduction of an online harms bill to protect internet users.

Ms Stevens’ comments came after Twitter was accused of being too slow to remove anti-Semitic posts made by grime artist Wiley on Friday.

Wiley
Wiley was widely criticised for posts on Twitter (Ian West/PA)

The rapper’s comments, as well his posts made on Facebook-owned Instagram, were condemned by politicians and campaigners and are now being investigated by the police.

Labour also highlighted the experiences of footballers Wilfried Zaha and David McGoldrick, who were victim to racist abuse online earlier this month.

The party also claimed that the “anti-vaxx movement” – people opposed to vaccinations – had been allowed to grow to “dangerous levels”, and spread “misinformation that is putting lives at risk”.

Ms Stevens said: “The failure to tackle these high-profile examples of hate speech shows why we so desperately need proper legislation to force the social media companies to keep people safe online.

“Social media companies have had repeated opportunities to show they can police their sites effectively.

“But when high-profile individuals are allowed to keep their platforms after spreading vile anti-Semitic abuse – and then doubling down when challenged – it’s clear that self-regulation isn’t working.”

An online harms White Paper was published in April 2019, with an initial Government response to a related consultation release in February.

The Government said in its response it was “minded” to make Ofcom the new online regulator.

Last month, Lord Puttnam, chairman of the Lords Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies, said it was “unacceptable” that it had been told new legislation may not be in place until 2024.

Ms Stevens added: “The Government promised this bill more than a year ago – it’s high time they showed they take the safety of those who use the internet as seriously as the needs and influence of the big tech firms.”

Last week, a report from MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee said an online harms regulator must be appointed now to hold social media platforms to account.

They said misinformation about coronavirus was allowed to spread “virulently” across social media because legislation is still not in place to regulate it.

On Sunday, Home Secretary Priti Patel called on social media giants to move faster in tackling hate speech on their platforms.

The antisemitic posts from Wiley are abhorrent.

They should not have been able to remain on Twitter and Instagram for so long and I have asked them for a full explanation.

Social media companies must act much faster to remove such appalling hatred from their platforms.

— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) July 26, 2020

Labelling Wiley’s posts as “abhorrent”, she tweeted: “They should not have been able to remain on Twitter and Instagram for so long and I have asked them for a full explanation.

“Social media companies must act much faster to remove such appalling hatred from their platforms.”

Twitter has previously said “abuse and harassment” have “no place” on its service and that it takes enforcement action over accounts that violate its rules addressing hateful conduct.

Facebook said there was “no place for hate speech on Instagram”.

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