We will make social media a safer space

Culture Secretary pledges new internet regulations following Twitter's 'shocking' response to rapper Wiley's antisemitic posts

July 30, 2020 08:28

It shouldn’t need to be said, but in a modern, confident and progressive country like Britain, it should not be possible for a bigot to spout hatred to hundreds of thousands of social media followers unchecked for hours on end. And yet last weekend that is exactly what happened.

Like countless people, I was horrified by the foul stream of antisemitic abuse that Grime artist Wiley posted on his Twitter and Instagram accounts on Saturday. It’s appalling to think that any Jewish person would feel the need to disengage online because they feel unsafe, as countless people did with a 48-hour boycott this week. That’s not the free, fair and open internet dreamed of by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

And it was particularly shocking that some of Wiley’s abhorrent posts remained online for nearly 12 hours. I can only imagine what a Jewish teenager felt as Wiley’s racist rant was shared, “liked” and retweeted. With every retweet, it wasn’t just him attacking them; it was some parts of the wider online community effectively saying his bile was ok.

Twitter has since written to me, apologising for how long it took them to act in this case. But this incident is yet more evidence that social media self-regulation isn’t working. The government must and will step in.

While the incident has been referred to the police, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that this is one isolated case. I will be introducing legislation through the Online Harms Bill that will impose tough penalties on the well-resourced social media giants if they fail to up their game. Put simply they will be required to put protections in place to ensure that racist antisemitism cannot fester and flourish on their sites.

And I say this as a Digital Secretary who is unashamedly pro-tech. Over the last few months, we’ve all seen how digital platforms can be an amazing force for good in the world — how they’ve connected us with loved ones during the pandemic, and enabled us to combat the virus from the safety of our own homes.

Tech is now a huge part of our lives and that’s a very good thing — we are wealthier, happier and better connected for social media.

In Britain in 2020, the internet should be an open and tolerant place for everyone, not a safe space for antisemitism.

This government will be the first in the world to introduce laws to make that a reality.

Oliver Dowden is Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

July 30, 2020 08:28

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