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Mon, 3 August 2020

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Social media companies must wake up and stop their platforms from becoming safe places for hate

Social media companies must wake up and stop their platforms from becoming safe places for hate

It was a profoundly new low, Twitter’s dithering and 48-hour delay in taking down a series of contemptible anti-semitic comments by a musician, which led so many of us to stage a walk-out, writes Christine Jardine MP. | PA Images

3 min read

There has been an abject failure to clamp down on those who see social media platforms as an unfettered opportunity to abuse. When we are seeing a terrifying increase in antisemitism this cannot go on.

I haven’t missed Twitter at all this past two days.

Not the casual abuse, not the nastiness and certainly not seeing good people being attacked either for what they have said or simply because of who they are.

There was a spell a couple of months ago when I thought that our attitude to, and use of, online platforms might have changed.

Perhaps the need for positive interaction with an outside world, friends and family that Covid-19 had denied us might open our eyes to its potential to fulfil the social aspect of its descriptor.

But no.

Not only did that not happen, but what we have seen instead is an abject failure to clamp down on those who see the medium as an unfettered opportunity to abuse.

It was a profoundly new low, Twitter’s dithering and 48-hour delay in taking down a series of contemptible anti-semitic comments by a musician, which led so many of us to stage a walk-out.

I have no intention of discussing the tweets which provoked the boycott or giving their author the oxygen of publicity by naming him.

While many social media platforms would claim to have improved their safeguards, this latest episode on Twitter illustrates that it is still not enough

But we do need to be aware of exactly why the remarks were unacceptable, and not just unacceptable on social media.

It is surely time that social media platforms wake up to the dangers posed by those hiding behind the freedom of speech that is one of the foundations of modern society.

For most of my professional life I was a journalist. For me freedom of speech, expression and the press is a fundamental right.

But there are limits. There is a line. That freedom cannot extend to harming others either through your words or actions.

Those who use social media platforms should have to conform to the same legal boundaries as every other publication or broadcast outlet.

And while many social media platforms would claim to have improved their safeguards – and no doubt they have – this latest episode on Twitter illustrates that it is still not enough.

As if to prove the point the last posts I saw before starting my boycott on Monday morning were offensive tweets about an article I had written.

Like most of my political contemporaries I have become inured to the constant stream of personal insults that comes our way and it is only when, as it often does, it strays into the area of threats that we act.

But this week’s Boycott has been important for another reason.

Musicians, movie stars, celebrities, politicians and online stars have the opportunity to reach potentially millions of people with every tweet.

At a time when we are seeing a terrifying increase in antisemitism in this country the prospects of millions of impressionable young minds being encouraged to think its acceptable because they hear it from someone, anyone, they look up to or regard as a role-model is chilling.

Social media companies have been warned for years now that their policies allowed risking their platforms becoming safe places for hate.

This week they must surely have listened and realised that unless they act the public whose involvement that they so successfully harnessed might just as quickly desert them.

 

Christine Jardine is the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for home affairs and women and equalities. 

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