Social networks not doing enough to combat online racism

Talk to any Black person who grew up in the UK since the ‘Empire Windrush’ hit Tilbury in 1948 and they’ll tell you that they faced overt and systematic racism on a daily basis.

Since the rise of the politically correct generation racism has simmered beneath the surface of British society. Now we have it floating through our 3G and Wi-Fi connections. After decades of trying to smother racist ideology with political correctness, we have come full circle and racism is beginning to bubble to the surface again.

With almost 60% of the Black population agreeing that racism is still prevalent in the UK, this is not necessarily news. What has changed is that racism has adapted to the 21st century.

Liam Stacey’s brutal racist tweets about Fabrice Muamba, the Black footballer who had a heart attack during a match in March, landed him seven weeks in prison. Yet, many believe that Stacey’s sentence is unwarranted, the overkill of political correctness.

Almost a year ago, Liam O’Donoughoe, a Norwich City Football Club fan, tweeted a racist remark about James Vaughn, which earned him a lifetime ban from the Canaries’ ground. From my point of view Stacey’s conviction is finally a step in the right direction. For once such comments have been considered serious by the judiciary. However, socially we haven’t addressed the core beliefs of racism. We’ve simply done all we can to hide them.

In 2007, thousands of Facebook users signed a Unite Against Fascism petition to rid the site of racist images and messages from the British National Party’s Facebook group. Facebook did all they could to have the group leaders remove the images, which was haphazard and ineffective, but they didn’t do anything to close the group. In fact, there is nothing in Facebook’s terms and conditions to hinder the use of racist content. The BNP Facebook group is still operating today, racist banter still in full effect.

Do a search on YouTube for ‘racism’ and the content is astounding. There is an entire section dedicated to Black jokes. Do the same for ‘fascism’ and the results are even more alarming. Google, the world’s largest search engine, has done nothing to remove racist and fascist content from YouTube.

Like Facebook, Google believes in the freedom of expression of its client base. It allows for the broadest use of the medium. YouTube’s terms and conditions state: “We encourage free speech and defend everyone’s right to express unpopular points of view. But we don’t permit hate speech (speech which attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, and sexual orientation/gender identity)”.

In other words, images that promote hate are fine, as long as you don’t voice your hatred.

Social media sites and their users hide behind the US Constitution’s First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of speech, and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas”. This is prefect legislation for social networking sites, since it negates accountability for the actions of its users.

Twitter didn’t take actions against Liam Stacey for his comments; in fact Liam Stacey’s Twitter account was still active until he went to prison. He actually used Twitter to make a public apology. Twitter didn’t report his actions to the police, but disgruntled users brought it to their attention. Yet the platform for cyber-hatred is still left open. There is no onus on social media sites to bring their users to task. They have no obligation to police their users and face no condemnation for the actions of bullies, racists, stalkers or predators.

Social networking has allowed racists of the world to unite and this is done under the guise of freedom of expression. This is a global public platform that everyone can tap into. Should we really tolerate hatred on a platform that can easily permeate every aspect of our lives? With the government purposing to monitor all our electronic communication, for our protection of course, I plan to protest against any monitoring that infringes on my civil liberties. But is Stacey’s sentence an infringement of his civil rights? I like to think of it as a message that racial hatred will finally not be tolerated. These sites have a moral obligation to ensure their users do not use their platforms to incite hatred. Hopefully one day they will also have a legal obligation too.

By Oran Blackwood